By Alix Paultre, Contributing Editor
Advanced Sensors Enable
Next-Generation IoT Devices
To support the next wave of Io T technology, sensor integration will be critical to ensure design success.
We are in the midst of a wonderful and frightening time of disruptive technologies, business models,
and markets. Myriad advances in materials, topologies,
and designs promise to bring some really innovative,
intriguing products to the market. One area of disruption
is the Internet of Things (Io T).
The potential for all powered devices more
sophisticated than a toaster (actually toasters are already
available Io T-enabled) to communicate to a network will
empower many things (pun intended). Beyond the basic
functions of on and off, the ability to monitor and operate
a device from anywhere as if you were standing next to
it is an ability spreading through society like wildfire,
and that is only one (and not even necessarily the most
important one) of the benefits of the Io T.
From wearable technology to advanced Augmented
Reality (AR) infrastructure, the Io T will foment gadgets
that we haven’t even thought of yet. Designers are working
feverishly to employ these new advances, from wide-
bandgap semiconductors and wireless charging topologies,
to energy harvesting and more, to gain advantage in the
marketplace and address existing and new markets.
One of the development bottlenecks is energy use.
Every portable device must deal with the issue of power
management, as battery lifetime is a primary customer
demand. Unfortunately, too many customers (and
designers) focus their attention on the size and energy
density of the battery, a valid but myopic view of the
situation. Even disregarding the safety issues of cramming
more energy in a package used in a human environment
that cannot survive a catastrophic event well, bigger and/
or denser batteries are not the optimal solution.
There’s an old joke that goes “everything I learned I got
from --------.” In this case, taking a quote from high-end
audio, there are two basic ways to make the music louder.
One way is to double the power of your amplifier to get a
3-decibel (dB) increase in volume, or you can reduce the
sound floor in the room easily by 3 (or more) dB, providing
the same effect. If you can shrink the size and weight of the
product, you don’t necessarily need a bigger battery, or you
can cram more functionality into a device in the same space.
The Critical Role of Sensors
Sensors are critical to the operation of advanced devices,
as no intelligent system can make decisions in a vacuum.
Sensors are needed for user input, environmental
information, and a variety of tasks from lid to light
detection. Sensors are also a great way to both shrink your
device design and reduce power consumption.
The latest generation of sensors can provide a high
level of device integration, bringing important functions
like signal conditioning and power management on-chip.
This not only reduces system size and overall power
consumption, but allows the designer to pay more
attention on the whole design than the individual pieces.
These modular solutions are also easier to integrate into
the system software, as they are created to comply with
major industry interfaces.
One example is environmental monitoring. A device
like the BME280 integrated environmental sensor by
Bosch-Sensortec is developed specifically for mobile
Figure 1: The BME280 integrated environmental sensor targets
mobile applications where size and low power consumption are
key design constraints.