Blog Post

Chip Companies Eye Energy-Harvesting

kstateperegrineChip companies are starting to offer lower power chips in an effort to help their customers reduce their electricity bills, but further down the pipeline, chip companies are examining how to incorporate energy-harvesting technology into new devices. This morning there’s news that Peregrine Semiconductor is working with Kansas State University researchers on an energy-harvesting radio that never needs a battery-change.

The Kansas State Researchers — Professor Bill Kuhn and master’s student Xiaohu Zhang — decided to use solar for the energy-harvesting radio and they’ve developed a device using a board made of solar cells taken from low-end calculators. The rest of the setup (see photo) includes a low-power integrated chip — originally developed for a NASA Mars project — to store the data, and a radio to transmit the data every five seconds. Technology like this could be used in a variety of sensor networks and control systems, including a building thermostat or lighting system, as well as temperature and stress gauges for bridges and other structures.

There are other ways to harvest energy for devices, and the Kansas State researchers are also looking at methods like electrochemical, mechanical or thermal energy.

Peregrine’s not the only company interested in the space. Intel is also working on a variety of energy-harvesting technologies for both sensor networks and consumer electronics and cell phones, which would draw power from their environment, including the sun and vibrations. Intel’s (s INTC) CTO Justin Rattner detailed some of the company’s more blue-sky lab plans at an event earlier this month.

Startups are moving quickly in the battery-free energy-harvesting space, too. Netherlands-based startup GreenPeak, which was formed in July 2007 through a merger of two wireless companies, is selling battery-free wireless chips and network hardware that rely on harnessing tiny amounts of energy from movement or solar. GreenPeak CEO and founder Cees Links told us that batteries are the barrier to more buildings having wireless sensor networks that can help cut energy consumption. Expect to see the company, which is backed by €10 million ($14.3 million) from investors like DFJ Esprit and Motorola Ventures, moving more into the U.S. market next year.

Image courtesy of Kansas State.

3 Responses to “Chip Companies Eye Energy-Harvesting”

  1. GreenPeak is rolling out a new technology that enables electronics manufacturers to build remote controls that can run almost forever on a single battery. We will be at CES if you want to know more.

    Greenpeak launches reference design for a new generation of RF remote controls

    Radio based remote controls for TVs, DVDs and set-top boxes

    18 December, 2008 – Utrecht – The Netherlands – GreenPeak, today announced the launch of a new robust and reliable wireless radio technology for home remote control devices based on RF (radio frequency). GreenPeak is a fabless semiconductor company offering innovative ultra low power wireless and battery-free data communication technologies for sense and control applications and was recently selected as 2009 Technology Pioneer by The World Economic Forum.

    Contrary to traditional IR based remote controls, RF remote controls provide two way high speed communication and do not require line of sight as the signal goes through walls and floors. It is excellent for controlling equipment inside a cabinet or in another room. With a nice stylish flat screen on the wall, people do not want to have DVD-players or set-top boxes within sight.

    GreenPeak has developed a set of reference designs for this new generation of RF remote controls (2.4 GHz, IEEE 802.15.4 compliant) and RF modules for integration into host such as TVs, DVDs and set-top boxes. These reference designs are based on GreenPeak’s Emerald GP500C communication controller, with dedicated features for the consumer electronics and remote control market.

    GreenPeak’s solution enables low cost and highly reliable communication owing to a superior radio with antenna diversity, frequency agility and delay spread handling, resulting in robust communication and excellent range. It also enables the designer to develop an ultra low power RF system with a much longer battery life. RF remote controls equipped with GreenPeak’s communication controller can be made maintenance free: a single watch type battery can outlast the life time of the remote.

    Remote controls designed with GreenPeak’s communication controller are based on the IEEE 802.15.4 industry standard for multiple devices control. GreenPeak’s solution also includes IR as secondary use for legacy systems. This combo solution allows the use of a single universal remote control for both IR and RF devices.

    The reference designs will be delivered with a protocol stack of less than 4KB. The embedded IEEE 802.15.4 MAC layer allows a short time to market and a simple, stable and reliable software application. Additionally, the reference designs are based on a single layer low cost PCB with integrated antennas guaranteeing a very low cost BOM.

    GreenPeak’s reference designs provide high speed low latency two-way communication with high throughputs, allowing high speed content browsing, touchpad operation, gaming, as well as high resolution displays on the remote control.

    According to Cees Links, CEO of GreenPeak, “GreenPeak’s new RF communication controller opens a market for low cost, reliable high speed RF remote controls and is expected to have a huge impact on the user experience, as IEEE 802.15.4 remote controls will allow a completely new way to use a remote control.”

    The reference designs for remote controls will be launched at the CES show in Las Vegas. GreenPeak invites journalists and interested parties to make an appointment for a live demonstration during a personal meeting.

    About GreenPeak
    GreenPeak is a fabless semiconductor company, and is a leader in battery-free communication technology for wireless sense and control applications. This revolutionary technology, based on the IEEE 802.15.4/ZigBee wireless networking standard, utilizes energy harvesting to facilitate battery-free operation in a totally wireless environment, without the need for either communications or power connectivity.
    GreenPeak is selected by the World Economic Forum as 2009 Technology Pioneer for its accomplishments as innovator of the highest caliber, involved in the development of life-changing technology innovation and with the potential for long-term impact on business and society.

    GreenPeak is based in Utrecht – The Netherlands and has offices in Belgium, Japan and USA.
    GreenPeak is backed by venture capitalists: DJF Esprit (UK), Gimv (Belgium), Motorola Ventures (USA) and Allegro Investment Fund (Belgium).