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Enabling Power Efficient Wireless Systems

Tue, 08/09/2011 - 10:05am
VC Kumar and Adrian Fernandez, Texas Instruments


As we move deeper into the 21st century, two macro technology trends stand out – improved power efficiency and ubiquitous wireless connectivity. Going green is a world-wide initiative, and technology is the driving force to ensure products meet this objective. Power efficiency is linked to wireless connectivity in several ways. Wireless connectivity is being used as a tool to communicate and share information (that could be used to optimize personal/macro power consumption) faster and in a more cost-effective manner. The dizzying pace of innovations in portable, battery operated devices is driving advancements in power efficient technology. Just in 2011, we have seen embedded systems that will enable developers to design smarter, faster and yet, lower-power applications, especially in wireless systems. These advancements are allowing individual products to perform more efficiently while simultaneously improving capabilities of monitoring and measuring.

Texas Instruments (TI) today has one of the broadest product portfolios in the semiconductor industry, from analog and power management products to embedded processing to communication technology, both wired and wireless. This expertise enables TI to integrate more functionality on a single piece of silicon such as radio transceivers, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), operational amplifiers and metrology modules with embedded processors and microcontrollers. TI is also making significant investments both in differentiated fundamental technologies such as ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM) as well as silicon fabrication processes. This combination of silicon integration and innovative products enables TI’s customers to reduce bill of materials by reducing the need for external components and speed time to market.

The impact of TI’s integration and innovation in products does not only impact bill of materials and time to market, but also enables customers to design more power efficient products and systems.

TI does this in three ways:
1) Designing and producing chips that are more power (energy) efficient - that do more with less energy consumption,
2) Providing customers with tools to monitor and control their products’ and systems’ power consumption in real time, and
3) Providing the industry’s broadest RF product portfolio so no matter the application need, wireless connectivity is made possible.

Let’s take a closer look at FRAM as an example technology in embedded processing.

FRAM has emerged as a next generation embedded non-volatile memory solution for microcontrollers, enabling faster data updates and storage capabilities at a fraction of the power. Flash memory, which is typically found in embedded systems, was originally developed in 1980. That is, before one of the fastest growing age segments of engineers were born. Applications today have new requirements – more data collection, complex data processing, storage and wireless connectivity, all with a smaller power budget – which can finally be met with FRAM. TI is the first company to enable the catalog microcontroller market with this next generation technology with its MSP430FR57xx series of microcontrollers.

These devices benefit from the DRAM-like performance of FRAM, but in a non-volatile topology. This directly leads to 100x faster data throughput and uses as little as 250x less power than flash- and EEPROM-based microcontrollers during writes to memory. In addition, the MSP430FR57xx series has never-before-seen write endurance, which can tolerate more than 100 trillion write cycles, trumping the 100,000 cycles that flash is capable of. These features directly translate to many tangible system benefits. Over the air firmware upgrades in battery operated systems are easier and much more power efficient with FRAM. Developers are also able to deploy more wireless sensors with batteries that can last longer, each of which is now capable of capturing 100x more data, enabling faster and more informed decisions.

Embedded FRAM eliminates the need for external EEPROM in datalogging applications and offers unified memory, allowing developers to easily change memory partitioning between program, data and cache in software on the fly. Unlike traditional embedded microcontrollers where a new chip is needed leading to additional design-in, test and qualification and possibly code modification and certification time, a FRAM-based microcontroller just needs a change in software when design requirements change.

The MSP430FR57xx device is also the world’s first ultra-low-power embedded FRAM microcontroller. Not only does it feature power consumption of 100 uA/MHz in active mode, but it has revolutionized the ability of microcontrollers to log and store data in power constrained environments. The MSP430FR57xx MCU consumes as little as 9uA while storing data at the rate of 12 kB/s . This not only has a direct impact on power consumption of the system, but can also assist with post-function data modeling and/or real-time feedback control systems to improve power efficiency of systems.

In addition, TI’s MSP portfolio has also introduced a new family of metrology chips, which feature an on-board analog front end (AFE) with the MSP430AFE2xx. This series of 16-bit, ultra-low-power microcontrollers are integrated with three independent 24-bit sigma-delta ADCs, with the capability of anti-tamper. This addition to the MSP portfolio enables developers and consumers to more accurately measure and record current consumption, often via wireless networks in buildings, achieving less than 0.1 percent error in energy accuracy over a wide dynamic range of 2400:1. The MSP430AFE2xx is another example of a device that enables fast and accurate current consumption measurements, enabling functions such as providing suggestions to home owners on how to reduce electrical power consumption at home, providing warnings in case of socket overload and more.

These advancements in embedded processing are enabling consumers to be more energy friendly, while aggressively pushing the technological envelope to meet today’s increasingly challenging requirements for functionality.

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