Battery life. If we could figure out how to lengthen it exponentially, the world would be a better place. And that seems to be what the researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have - almost –achieved. They have invented a smart microchip that can continue powering a device even when the battery of the said device has been depleted.

In the not-so-distant future the technologies associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) will demand connectivity around the clock; to assure the safety and efficiency of businesses’ hardware.

Sensors, for example, are technologies that require 24/7 uptime; they need power sources to continue running. Because any number of sensors are required in a single process, they also need to be as small and as unimposing as possible  – a significant challenge because smaller batteries do not have the capacity of their bigger counterparts.

The engineers from NUS designed a microchip to circumnavigate the battery life problem in batteries - and they’ve called it ‘BATLESS’. Using a tiny chip with an even tinier solar cell placed on top of it, the microchip uses light (even if its dim) to continue powering itself when the battery is depleted.

BATLESS
Source: National University of Singapore

Associate Professor Massimo Alioto from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering said:

“We have demonstrated that batteries used for IoT devices can be shrunk substantially, as they do not always need to be available to maintain continuous operation. Tackling this fundamental problem is a major advancement towards the ultimate vision of IoT sensor nodes without the use of batteries, and will pave the way for a world with a trillion IoT devices.”

The batteries that these microchips can help power are ten times smaller than existing IoT node batteries and are consequently ten times cheaper to produce.

 

How it works

The battery and microchip power management solution is truly fascinating. The battery works as a normal battery would: The battery utilizes all its energy when powering something. However, when the battery life runs out, the smart-chip switches into a mode known as ‘minimum-power’. The chip then uses half a nanoWatt until a new battery can be replaced, but continues to power optimally.

Professor Alioto says:

“BATLESS is the first example of a new class of chips that are indifferent to battery charge availability. In minimum-power mode, it uses 1,000 to 100,000 times less power, compared to the best existing microcontrollers designed for a fixed minimum-energy operation. At the same time, our 16-bit microcontroller can also operate 100,000 times faster than others that have recently been designed for fixed minimum-power operation. In short, the BATLESS microchip covers a wide range of possible energy, power, and speed trade-offs, as allowed by the flexibility offered through the two different modes.” 

The engineers say that the BATLESS microchip will be a perfect fit for ‘smart buildings, environmental monitoring, energy management, and adaptation of living spaces to occupants’ needs’. Utilizing the minimum power mode, the microchip can still ensure that data gets sent to the relevant mechanisms even when battery life isn’t present.

 

Works Cited

NUSingapore. “NUS Engineers Invent Smart Microchip That Can Self-Start and Operate When Battery Runs Out.” EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-05/nuos-nei050318.php.

“Smart Microchip Keeps Going When Batteries Run Dry.” Futurity, 26 June 2018, www.futurity.org/smart-microchip-batless-1794752/.

The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is dedicated to ensuring our students receive a world-class education and gain skills they can immediately implement in the workplace upon graduation. Our staff members uphold our ethos of honesty and integrity, and we stand by our word because it is our bond. Our students are also expected to carry this attitude throughout their time at our institute, and into their careers.