We have all heard of many software and hardware techniques to reduce power consumption. This interview takes a look at two impressive technologies that take power saving to a whole new level. Let’s see how 3D motion capture technology and power systems in a package can help save energy in your next design.
Vijay Ullal, president and COO, and KN Kim, regional VP from speak with Dilin Anand. Founded in 1957, Fairchild is considered to be the seminal semiconductor company, considered by some to be the first trillion-dollar startup. Their first product was the world’s first commercially viable integrated circuit, which disrupted everything before it.
Q: How would you segregate the Internet of Things applications?
A: I think for the Internet of Things going forward, there may be two major opportunities. It either has to be invisible, such as in an industrial application, or it has to be highly visible – like a fashion accessory. There is a third category that I think is totally useless, which is smart fridges.
The fashion one is dangerous to do business in because it can come and go with the whims of the masses. The invisible one however, is where we are playing because it is about adding value all the time.
Q: What can you say about sensor fusion and the challenges that developers face?
A: Sensors are inherently inaccurate. Let me give you an example. Pressure sensors are open to the environment. Let’s say you open this door very hard, it will have an effect on the pressure sensor on the motion tracker on your wrist — it looks like you have gone up and then suddenly you went back down. Let’s say you wave your hand around; it will think you’re moving. You also have other sensors like accelerometers, gyros, GPS and other RF signals. The idea with sensor fusion is to take all these signals together and get the right information. You combine them, add the proper algorithms and you are finally able to obtain all the right information with lower power consumption. Something like this can be found in an electronic gadget that has an apps processor and sophisticated software and algorithms. They already have the smarts needed for sensor fusion. However there are many machines that don’t have these smarts and that’s where we come in. We can provide the entire solution and the optimal partitioning of the system between hardware and software.
Q: What has your team done that is truly innovative in this market with an aim to help save power?
A: We are investing in motion tracking solutions that design engineers can implement in their designs to save energy.
Q: How does motion tracking help an engineer to save power?
A: Let me explain to you where specifically an example of motion tracking helps in terms of energy. W have 3D motion capture technology, right? With this you can get very accurate positioning of something. So let’s say you put a 3D motion tracking into harvester. Just an example, you can do really precise harvesting without losing through unnecessary motions or movement. Using the data from these sensors, we are able to stick to the most efficient path and not miss anything.
Q: How exactly does that data help in making precise movement?
A: When you have to use some combination of GPS and six inertial sensors, it gives you really accurate positioning, and you can get really accurate data as to where the thing is, how fast it moves and whether its efficient enough. If something goes wrong — if it’s going too slow or it’s going off direction — you can figure these things out quickly.
Q: Could you give us an example of how this helps in a real world situation?
A: I’ll give you an example with ships. Do you know that often, only the top of the mast of sailing ships catches wind while the rest of it is wasted? Now in order to catch more wind we could try to increase the height of the mast but then it would cause the ship to capsize. This is the reason most ships moved from wind to diesel power more than a century ago. We can bring back wind power with a sail high up in the sky with a 3D motion capture system as well as a steering mechanism on the ship also equipped with a 3D motion capture system. This reduces diesel consumption by up to 40 per cent.
Q: Why the choice of motion trackers for energy savings?
A: When you look at where the maximum amount of energy is used, you will see that 60% of the world’s energy is used to physically moving things. That’s where the energy goes. So, if you make something smarter in a way that they use energy more efficiently to move, it’s cleaner and smarter. That’s why we are focused on the Internet of Things. Yes, this also means that we are not focused on stuff like smart fridge or other appliances like that.
Q: What are R&D teams of semiconductor companies like yours working on to help tackle rising energy consumption?
A: While every end-market is in a different state of evolution, they are all progressing towards power system in a package. So, when you do power systems in a package, you can run switching power supply at high frequency because there’s less wasted power due to switching losses. As a result, the solution is smaller and improves your energy density. When we provide such a solution, we are able to capture more of the system. It makes it easier for the engineers to design, and that is one of the most important factors for customers. With a power system in a package, both energy density and time to market gets better.
Q: I’m sure our design engineers would want to know how unique this technology is compared to the competing components.
A: When we look at power systems, they contain controllers, drivers, low or medium voltage FETs, high voltage IGBTs, MOSFETs, sensing and isolation to ensure that these come together to form a useful and safe product. There are a lot of people who are into the business of making these individual components. However, if you look at the number of companies who can make all of these technologies understanding the system and applications, then that number is less. When you look at the number of companies who can do so using a power system in a package, you might get just two or three.
Q: What do these newer components offer the end user of a product?
A: Cleaner sources of energy will need a lot of enabling electronics, for storage and for conversion of voltage or inversion from AC to DC. Each time energy is converted, inverted or transmitted; there is an amount of energy that is lost. The newer technology, when deployed across many devices along the route of power transmission, will have a cumulative effect on power savings that will make solar, wind and other clean sources of energy price competitive with fossil fuels in the future.
Q: What do these newer components offer the manufacturer, who is trying to reduce the cost of making their product?
A: One thing you might have noticed is that the newer more efficient adaptors are smaller as well. The old big brick adaptors that you had delivered an efficiency of about 30%, while the newer ones, like the one used for the iPhone, are about 70%. Not only are these products more efficient to use, they take less energy to build. When you make the components smaller and make the energy density better, there is another benefit that comes out of it. The amount of materials that goes into this product is also reduced. For example, let’s consider that you are using a power supply. Now if you build a power supply at 50KHz, and then build another switching power supply where you can go up to 300KHz, all the components around it become smaller. If you keep the same efficiency you can reduce the size of the external components by a factor of six.