Overcoming battery life concerns in IoT

Apr 29, 2015

Whatever you call it, Internet of Things (generally abbreviated to IoT), Internet of Everything (Cisco and Qualcomm) or the Industrial Internet (GE), connecting things is big news in the technology world. It has the potential to impact a variety of industries, and even cities, by using smart sensors to make things smarter.

Whilst some of the world’s leading technology companies lead the pack to deploy industrial Internet of Things to the masses, it is often considered to still be in the infancy of mass deployment. This is due to a number of challenges that need to be addressed to avoid a logistical nightmare. Battery life in mobile sensors are among them.

At the most basic level, Internet of Things is about connecting physical objects with a digital presence. To do this, smart sensors are used to gather data from the objects, to increase intelligence and allow for wireless sensor communication. Therefore, it is vital for smart sensors to have a reliable stream of power. This is particularly important with retro fitted sensors, in which a sensor is attached externally onto an object or require the sensor to be fitted in remote areas where a plugging into a main power source is not a viable option.

In some cases, smart sensors can be plugged in to eradicate the need to consider battery life. However, having a plugged-in sensor means that it may be more expensive to manufacture with a more complex power system. At least for now, a battery powered sensor could be a cheaper option to deploy if the concerns are covered.

As sensors, connected either by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, start to measure metrics such as temperature or moisture, their power demand increases to maintain performance. With companies looking for smaller form-factors to allow for discreet placement around your home, office or city, the power supply needs to remain and sustain even with a smaller battery.

Underperformance or failure of power source of these wireless sensors could result in increased operational and maintenance costs and loss of function. If this issue is not addressed, it could have an adverse affect on its affordability and practicality. This could potentially delay the investment in data gathering and the advancement in a smarter infrastructure.

In an attempt to combat this, ARM is looking to improve the battery life of sensors that use Bluetooth, identifying it as a promising method of wireless communication. On Tuesday, ARM announced the acquisition of Wicentric, a provider of Bluetooth software solutions and Sunrise Micro Devices (SMD) a sub-one volt Bluetooth radio IP.

ARM aims to gather the intellectual property of these two companies to form its new Cordio Portfolio, focusing on developing low power wireless communications for devices used in IoT. With the use of Bluetooth, ARM is introducing new technologies that will extend battery life of IoT devices by 60%.

Smart Bluetooth or Bluetooth Low Energy, is designed to enable intelligence in managing connections and therefore helping to preserve the consumption of energy. Instead of maintaining constant bit streams of informations, Smart Bluetooth sends bundles of data when necessary, putting the connection to sleep mode during idle periods.

By doing this, Bluetooth enabled devices are usually cheaper to deploy and maintain as battery life is extended and constant monitoring is minimised. In addition, with a more efficient approach to energy consumption, BLE enabled devices can be used with a smaller battery. This allows for smaller and more discrete form factors to be used.

Without tackling the issue of battery life, IoT involvement from companies could be an expensive and impractical area of business development. Only with the support of organisations both public and private will we finally see smart sensors being deployed to the masses. Bluetooth smart devices have the potential to move device connectivity into the next phase, especially with the Bluetooth 4.2 soon to be enabled with IPv6.

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