Terminator REBOOTING: Smart microchip can self-start and operate even when the battery runs out

Singaporean scientists have unveiled a smart microchip that will keep running long after its battery runs empty. The new BATLESS has an integrated solar cell that can get power from dim lighting, and its power management features let it start and run itself, an article in Science Daily states.

The new chip will be installed on Internet of Things (IoT) sensor nodes. Because it needs far less power, it can run on much smaller batteries. Smart devices that will use the chip can be made many times cheaper and smaller.

BATLESS is the brainchild of an engineering team from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Their leader, Massimo Alioto, said that the power-efficient microchip is a significant step towards battery-indifferent IoT sensor nodes.

IoT devices need to run for long periods of time on limited power. They therefore need to be very efficient.

The battery in a typical smart device are much bigger than the lone microchip they power. A battery can also cost thrice as much as the chip. The size of the battery depends on the operational life of the sensor node. The node’s lifespan also determines how often the battery needs to be replaced.

Most IoT devices constantly use battery power. Smaller batteries are replaced more often, while bigger batteries cost more and take up more space. (Related: SCARY: Computer experts show how easy it is to hack off-the-shelf smart devices like baby monitors and home security cameras.)

New smart microchip can switch between power modes to keep running

The BATLESS microchip takes a big step towards battery indifference, the ability to operate despite the lack of battery power. The chip has two modes of operation depending on the availability of power.

Minimum-energy mode maxes out the lifetime of the battery. When the battery runs out, the chip changes to minimum-power mode, which uses less than a billionth of the energy a smartphone uses for phone calls.

This power can be provided by a minuscule solar cell on the chip itself. The chip will also be able to draw power from other sources. BATLESS will operate at a reduced rate while in minimum-power mode. But it will still be smart and fast enough to keep track of different changing parameters like humidity, light, pressure, and temperature. The chip will be able to keep sensing, processing, capturing, and time-stamping important events despite the lack of battery power. Once there is enough power again, the microchip will send its collected data to the cloud. Since the microchip no longer completely relies on battery power, the IoT device’s battery can now be shrunk down. Smaller devices will be cheaper to make, use less resources, and do less damage to the environment.

BATLESS microchip can run on available light during twilight

Its creators claim BATLESS is a perfect fit for smart buildings. IoT devices equipped with the new chip will be able to keep monitoring the occupants, even when the power runs out or goes into flux. NUS’ Alioto said that his team’s microchip uses 1,000 to 100,000 less power than current micro-controllers that can only run in minimum-energy mode. It can also run 100,000 times faster than chips designed for minimum-power mode.

Furthermore, its power management feature allowed BATLESS to self-start itself using the tiny solar cell on the chip. A a 50-lux light source – the same amount of light during twilight – provided enough power for the microchip to start itself. The NUS researchers are planning to create true battery-indifferent systems for every smart device in the IoT. Alioto says getting rid of batteries will allow a trillion IoT devices to be built around the world.

Keep an eye on the increasing numbers of IoT devices at Computing.news.

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