Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Low Power Electronics


LPWAN = Low Power Wide Area Network

LPWAN is typically thought about as cellular data networks but that involves a contradiction since cellular and low power are inherently in conflict with each other. For instance, a standard 3G or 4G cellular modem will have a peak current draw of up to 2A during transmission and needs to be carefully power managed if running from batteries. This has meant that a 10 year operating life from a primary cell battery either needs a huge primary cell or very infrequent communications. So what are the alternatives?

In IoT Versus M2M we looked at how the real benefit of IoT (Internet of Things) is that rather than a single Machine to Machine link being established, there are now multiple devices connected via shared web services and their combined data is being used to create extra value, and particularly if Big Data analytics is added to the mix.

SigFox Logo

SigFox Logo

LoRa Alliance

LoRa Alliance

There is also a lot of potential disruption in this. LoRa and SigFox are both looking to provide lower cost networks to replace dependency on cellular network operators for coverage and also address the power consumption problem. There is an excellent comparison of these 2 systems in SigFox versus LoRa. And both are trying to disrupt existing cellular network providers. An overall view at available at NB-IoT versus LoRa versus SigFox.

NB-IoT

Which introduces Narrow Band IoT or NB-IoT as it is now commonly abbreviated to. Just to continue the confusion of acronyms, it is also called CAT-NB and CAT-NB1. There is a detailed view of this technology and its likely long term adoption at NB-Iot is dead – Long live NB-IoT.

The summary is that NB-IoT is too late to market and requires too much equipment changeover to win the early adopter market, especially in the USA, but will win in the long term. In the interim there is a host of other options also being developed. The cellular network operators have realised, at least 5 years too late, that their business and technology models were both under attack simultaneously. This is a particularly dangerous form of disruption.

Hardware is now becoming available and China adoption of NB-IoT makes them the  main early adopter market.

 

Quectel BC95 NB-IoT Module

Quectel BC95 NB-IoT Module

u-blox SARA-N2 NB-IoT Module

u-blox SARA-N2 NB-IoT Module

Low Power Cellular

So if up until now, low power and cellular were not usually compatible concepts, what is changing to address that?

To reduce power consumption, you have to have one or more of the following:

  • reduce transmit power
  • increase receiver sensitivity
  • reduce transmit duration
  • increase transmit interval
  • reduce network registration time
  • reduce data rate

Some of these can be mutually exclusive. However the key elements that are working together is to reduce the data rate and use a modulation scheme that means the transmitter power can be reduced. LoRa does this very well and NB-IoT is looking to achieve a similar thing. There are trade-offs and the lower data rate for NB-IoT means it is best suited to very small packets. CAT-M1 will require less power for larger packets because the faster data rate means the transmit time is a lot shorter.

Low Cost Cellular

So we have looked at the power consumption angle. How about cost and business model. And there are 2 aspects to cost. There is the hardware cost and there is a the network operations cost. To reduce cost you have to do one or more of the following:

  • reduce silicon and software protocol stack complexity
  • high volume production allows economies of scale for hardware
  • increase the number of channels available in the network
  • increase the number of simultaneous connections in the network
  • reduce margins

Both SigFox and NB-IoT aim to make the end device hardware cost as low as possible. In the case of NB-IoT and CAT-M1 the channel bandwidth can be reduced and so the same bandwidth can support multiple devices instead of just one. The power level in the device transmitter is reduced by reducing the bandwidth and data rate. As an example, a CAT-M1 module has a peak transmitter current draw of 500mA which is a factor of 4 lower than CAT-1. So low cost and low power can go together very well.

The graph below shows how the various cellular standards relate to each other.

Cellular IoT standards and how they relate

Cellular IoT standards and how they relate

IoT Deployment Options

We have been using standard 3G/4G Cellular modems for our broadly distributed IoT offerings. As of the end of this month, we ship our first CAT-1 based offerings. These have the advantage of supporting both 4G with fall back to 3G. Although NB-IoT hardware is available now from both Quectel and u-blox, the networks in Australia don’t yet support it. And while NB-IoT is ideal for fixed location assets, we also do mobile systems so these need to be CAT-M1 once it is available.

CAT-M1 is expected to be available in Australia on the Telstra network around September 2017. I am also taking this as meaning that NB-IoT is 2018 or possibly even longer. So we plan to move to CAT-M1 as soon as it is available. The modules are expected to be available about the same time as the network upgrades.

Here are some CAT-1 and CAT-M1 offerings from Quectel and u-blox.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel EC21 CAT-1 Module

Quectel EC21 CAT-1 Module

The Quectel EC21 is what we are deploying in our units later this month.

u-blox LARA-R2 CAT-1 Module

u-blox LARA-R2 CAT-1 Module

 

u-blox SARA-R404M CAT-M1 Module

u-blox SARA-R404M CAT-M1 Module

IoT Network Upgrades

Ericsson have announced the roll out plans for the Telstra Network CAT-M1 capability.

And Telstra have announced their own Telstra IoT Network Plans.

This is the overall Telstra road map. Summary:
CAT-1 now
CAT-M1 by September
NB-IoT sometime after that but no dates yet

Other carriers will follow although Vodafone are well placed to introduce NB-IoT first as they have Software Defined Radio base stations from Huawei and so can roll it out as a software update.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

IoT Security

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a pivotal component of the future and is driving initiatives from Smart Cities through Ubiquitous Computing and Augmented Reality. Of course the next step up from Smart Cities is a Smarter Planet. But we aren’t at Smart Cities yet.

An enabling technology like IoT can also have roadblocks to adoption. The principal ones being addressed now are:

  • power consumption
  • cost of goods
  • size
  • security

The biggest issue right now is IoT Security. Recent DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks have used IoT Devices as the attack launchers. They are being selected because many have weaker security than fully fledged computing devices.

DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service

DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service

In a recent article on IEEE Spectrum on the Path to IoT Security it is argued that IoT Manufacturers must take responsibility and not leave it up to end users. There is also a role of industry standards however no clear set of standards have yet been agreed. So although 2016 is the Year of IoT, with this being the single biggest category of product shipped, it is still very early days where things like IoT Security and IoT Interoperability are concerned.

IoT Security versus Software Security

This is not a new dilemma. Software Security is always important and it becomes increasingly important as Internet Communicating IoT Devices become more widespread. One apparent assumption underlying all this is that an IoT Device must be a fully IP Stack capable platform. That is not necessarily the case. In the video I shared about our Water Metering Remote Telemetry project one thing I didn’t mention is that the data stream is all driven from the IoT Device. There is nothing to log into. You can’t patch it with a Windows, Linux or other OS patch to override its function. It is not capable of being used in a DDoS attack because you can’t get to anything in it that can do that. So it is inherently secure against that form of risk.

Internet of Things Cconnectivity

Internet of Things Connectivity

However there are other risks. Nick Hunn has an insightful piece on Wireless Security for IoT where he argues that we are declaring security is present while having no evidence of proving it. That article is a little dated but the basic tenets still seem to apply. Just because a manufacturer or industry alliance states they have addressed security, it doesn’t make it automatically true.

So IoT Security is Software Security with the added component of protecting the physical hardware.

IoT Security in the Future

We still don’t have standards, so for now, individual device manufacturers and alliance members will need to ensure they have adequate security out of the box. The level of security required is determined by the importance of the data, either its security against unauthorised access, or its integrity against falsification. And at the asset level, its proof against either being disabled or used as an attack vector.

As an example, I am personally not so concerned if a hacker can find out how much electricity use my smart meter is reporting. Unless they get time of day usage and can correlate with other data sources to work out in advance when we aren’t home so they can rob us. My energy provider probably cares more about this data for all its customers coming into a competitors hands. Or maybe not. But I do care that I don’t get an outrageous bill because they were able to send fake data for my account to a server.

And energy grid managers care about usage data and Smart Meter appliance management being used to crash an entire electricity grid!

In the case of the Water Metering Remote Telemetry project I care that it remains online and working because otherwise someone will have to travel a long way to fix it. We have a facility in Gilgandra that is 892Km away as the crow flies. It will take a full day to get there and then another to back again. So I want it to be proof against some hacker disabling its communication ability. Since it has a physical antenna, I do care about that being hard to break. So some of these devices are put above normal reach and everything is inside a secure plastic case including the antenna. And our customer wants to know the reported water usage is correct. This means no missing data, and no incorrect data. They use the data to bill their customers.

One simple way to mess up data is a Replay Attack. If you can intercept and copy a data transmission, then you can play back that transmission any time you want to. You don’t even have to understand the content, the encryption, anything. Simply capture a HTTP POST or GET and replay it. Why does this matter? Because if the data transmitted is the volume of water used since the last report, then every time you play it back, you add to someone’s water bill. Or you distort the level of water the system believes is in a tank or reservoir. You can protect against these attacks in a number of ways but you have to consider the need to protect against them first of all.

There is a large volume of material on this topic. Here are some additional articles you might find useful for broadening your perspective on this topic:

I’m sure you won’t find it hard to search out a lot more articles. Just consider this. Once it has an Internet connection, any device can access anywhere in the world. And most firewalls protect against incoming attacks. A corrupted device on the inside can get out any time it wants to.

Internet of Things Global Reach

Internet of Things Global Reach

And if you want a really interesting view of what this could be like 10 years from now, I recommend reading Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge. Enjoy. And this isn’t my first reference to this book because I think it is fairly prescient in its exploration of a most probable future.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

State iAwards 2016

The state iAwards for 2016 are done and dusted and Skynanny has received a merit award, this time in the consumer product category. Here is a copy of the announcement.

VIC

Consumer – Merit Recipient

SKY NANNY – Nuguy Nominees Pty Ltd t/as SKY NANNY

SkyNanny is a child safety product built for parents by parents. It is a device worn by a child in his/her clothing which is paired to the parent’s mobile phone. Its more than just a location device. SkyNanny will prevent your child from going missing in the first place.

View the skynanny website

Now they are off to the National iAwards where the winners will be announced at a gala dinner on 1 September 2016.

Our congratulations go to Skynanny and also our thanks or having been involved in the development of such a useful product. In 2015 they were merit award recipients for the New Product category.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Making LEDs

There are a lot of processing steps that go into the Electronics Manufacture of a Light Emitting Diode or LED. OSRAM have released a video showing the processing steps that go into making an LED.  Check it out below.

The LED increasingly becomes the light source of choice for most lighting applications as we look to Reduce Energy Use and our Carbon Footprint.

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  For more information go to his LinkedIn profile at Ray Keefe. This post is Copyright © 2011  Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Electronics Design for Green Manufacture

This is not as straight forward a topic as it might at first seem to be.  And this is because there isn’t yet a unified agreement on exactly what Green Manufacture means.  And like most Design Issues, you cannot do Electronics Design without clear requirements.  So what are the requirements?

Here are some Green Manufacture requirements or targets:

  • reduce product Power Consumption
  • reduce manufacturing Power Consumption
  • add Renewable Energy options to the product
  • add Renewable Energy options to the manufacture process
  • reduce pollution or waste in the manufacture process
  • reduce energy involved in upstream or downstream processes
  • reduce pollution or waste in the upstream or downstream processes
  • increase product life
  • increase product utility
  • increase manufacturing plant utilisation

I guess you can see the dilemma.  It can be hard to know which target to aim for.  Am I doing the Electronics Design with the product, process, life cycle or ecosystem issues as the primary concern?  And how do I balance these concerns?

Here is one excellent article that also discusses this topic Green Supply Line.

Electronics Design can be Green

One major thing we can do is reduce the product Power Consumption.  We are coming out of a phase where a mains plug pack power supply was considered an ideal way to avoid compliance costs when designing new products.  This has led to a proliferation of low efficiency always on powered devices.  A recent look under my desk reveals the problem we have as Product Developers where every device I use is either USB Powered or mains plug pack powered.

So a first step is to review this whole approach to supplying power to devices.  We have made steady gains in the area of Power Consumption reduction for the devices themselves.  Now it is time to do a similar thing on the Power Supply side.

Energy Harvesting

This is a new area that hasn’t yet reached mainstream development.  The idea is that you can utilise the ambient environment to get power for free.  Or at least you aren’t directly requiring extra Power Generation.  Hence the name, Energy Harvesting.

How you do it and the Electronics Design and Electronics Technology required to make it work are still being defined but there has been some interesting new progress.  Some key players are:

Linear Technology – new Energy Harvesting Integrated Circuit

Enocean – are front runners in bringing Self Powered Wireless devices to the market

What is Energy Harvesting?

This is where we use Electronics Design and Electronics Devices to generate power from the Ambient Environment.  The result is a product that doesn’t need to be plugged in and recharges itself automatically. Some of the Energy Sources that are used are:

  • Light
  • Thermal differentials
  • Vibration
  • Chemistry
  • Pressure differentials
  • Air Flow

One example of a product that does this is the Enocean Light Switch where you can just put it where you want it.  And if you change your mind, just move it. Now wiring required.

Right now the technology is still more expensive and so take up is slow.  But as it develops and the price comes down that will change.

We are in for some interesting times.

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. For more information go to his LinkedIn profile. This post is Copyright  Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Electronics Design To Save Energy

We have looked at how Low Power Electronics is a green strategy because it reduces the amount of power that has to be generated.  And then we looked at a range of options for Reducing Electronics Power Consumption.

Now we are into specifics.  The last post looked at Sleep Modes For Microcontrollers and how extending the Sleep Period and reducing the Sleep Current could dramatically Reduce Electronics Power Consumption.

Saving Electronics Power When Awake

The next logical step is to ensure that Power Consumption when awake is also reduced as much as possible.  This can be a little tricky to get right as it can sometimes eliminate all the benefits you built up with you sleep strategy.  The reasons for this are:

  • you can use Analogue Electronics to reduce software power requirements but it has to be turned off during Sleep Mode
  • if you do turn the power off to Analogue Electronics then there is a Settling Time after it is powered up
  • using Smart Electronics Chips can increase overall Quiescent Current
  • unless the Startup Time and Shutdown Time are quick, these can dominate the Power Consumption

Now there are some Software Architecture issues that affect these, especially the last one, but we will look at that in another post.  For the last part of this post we will address the Electronics Design issues that have been raised here.

Electronics Design – To Save Power

Electronics Design can address these Power Consumption issues.  Here is an example of a Power Consumption curve where an RC Time Constant must be taken into account to minimise average Power Consumption.

RC Time Constant affect Power Consumption

RC Time Constant affect Power Consumption

Here is a list of general strategies to select from to reduce Power Consumption:

  • using the lowest feasible Clock Rate so Clocked Devices use less power
  • using shorter Settling Times particularly by controlling RC Time Constants
  • select semiconductors for lowest overall Quiescent Current taking awake and sleep operation into account
  • ensure streamlined Startup and Shutdown operation

The overall Quiescent Current issues often gives the most difficulty.  This can be addressed through Design Simulation either by SPICE, Software Modelling or a spreadsheet.  For simpler systems the spreadsheet is often the easiest solution to implement.  For very Software Intensive Systems the Software Modelling approach is the most reliable method.  This will allow you to construct scenarios and be able to predict the Power Consumption implications for each of them.

For our Electronics Design and System Test methodology we often create a full system Software Model and so it is easy to use this same Software Model to accumulate the power consumption as it runs.  This can also be automated and so simulate months of operation very quickly.

Next we will look at the role of Embedded Software in ensuring Power Consumption remains as low as possible.

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  For more information go to his LinkedIn profile. This post is Copyright © Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

How Does Sleep Save Energy?

For this post, we will look specifically at Embedded Software techniques to save power and energy.  This is a well known Power Saving Strategy which doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves.  It is also something you have to design into the Power Management Plan from the beggining.

For this example, we will use the MSP430 from TI which has some of the best Power Saving and Power Consumption figures in the industry.  We have used them to create devices that run from a pair of AAA batteries for 2 years and which have time based control algorithms so that they can’tbe used in a purely event driven mode.  Here is how it works:

Low Power Sleep Mode

Low Power Sleep Mode

This shows the power consumption versus time.  In Low Power Sleep Mode the consumption is close to zero.  Almost no power consumed.  Then depending on what is happening it wakes up to varying degrees.

Get the best Electronic Sleep

So this is how you take advantage of this:

  • make the time between wake ups as long as possible
  • make the time awake as short as possible
  • only turn on the peripherals needs for a particular wake period

Now if you system only has to wake once every minute then you can get low power operation from a lot of different processors.  If it wakes many times a second then you need a processor that gives you lots of ways to reduce power during wake, reduce the time awake, and increase the interval between wakes.

MSP430 Sleep

So back to the MSP430. It has Power Conservation features that allow it to do all three better than most.  Here is the list:

  • Digitally Controlled Oscillator DCO allows it to wake and run quickly
  • Can run a Timer from a 32KHz crystal making interval timing very low power
  • Can use the DCO to set the run speed and so shorten the wake time
  • Lot’s of Power Down Modes so you can always find one that suits your application
  • Peripherals can be Shut Down when not in use
  • Can run down to 1.8V – more on that later but it can also help here

Low Power System Architecture

To take advantage of all this, you have to develop the System Architecture so that  takes advantage of this.  An example from a very long life application we did runs like this:

  • 32Hz Oscillator runs a timer that generates a 1 second wake
  • User input keys set up to wake on change of state from high to low
  • Use DCO at 1MHz to quickly wake, execute & sleep again
  • Use State Machines to allow modules to execute predictably with eratic timing
  • Have early exit tests to prevent unnecessary Code Execution

The result is an application that runs a process with User Interaction, LED Indicators, and a 2 week cycle where the average Power Consumption is 20uA at 2.7V or 54uW.  Of this, less than half is the processor executing the software and the single biggest energy use is the intermittently flashed LED Indicators.

To learn more, check out this more comprehensive article on “Low power MCU selection criteria and sleep mode implementation” from embedded.com which provides more examples.

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  For more information go to his LinkedIn profile. This post is Copyright © Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

What is so good about Low Power Electronics?

If you read my last post, you would have noticed that this has the potential to reduce overall Power Requirements.  Up until now,  only Battery Operated Devices have really cared about Power Consumption.  If you could plug it into a wall outlet then all was OK unless you were consuming more power than a standard circuit allowed.

Today, things are different.  Climate Change is a global concern and reducing the Carbon Footprint for a product is important, regardless of what sort of power it consumes.

If we can reduce the Power Consumption of an appliance by 50%, then provided it’s Electronics Manufacture does not add that back again, we have a net Carbon Footprint gain.  In fact, if we can do this across all products then we will meet our Global Carbon Reduction target of 50% by 2050 with this strategy alone.

How to reduce Electronics Power Consumption

This is not a new topic, and much of what I present here represents the combined experience of the Electronics and Embedded Software industry.  Here is the short list:

  • reduce the Supply Voltage for Microcontrollers, Microprocessors and CMOS Circuits in general
  • use Sleep Modes and keep the Wake Periods as short as possible
  • replace High Power Consumption Devices with Low Power Consumption Devices
  • replace high utilisation Digital Filters with Analogue Electronics equivalents
  • replace Polled Operating Modes with Event Driven Operating Modes
  • use Low Power Smart Peripherals that Wake the rest of the System only when required
  • reduce the Time To Wake and the Time To Sleep
  • optimise the Software Execution Flow
  • use Energy Harvesting
  • Remove power from sections of Electronics Circuitry when not in use

There is overlap and interdependency between these but that is a good starting point.

Next I will start look at specific examples.

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  For more information go to his LinkedIn profile. This post is Copyright © Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

Low Power Electronics is a Green Strategy

There are 2 ways to reduce your Carbon Footprint.  The first is to get the same power from a Green Power Source that reduces the Carbon Footprint at the power generation phase.  This is where Wind Power, PV PhotoVoltaics, Wave Power, Geothermal Power and other such technologies come in.

Wind Power Generator

Wind Power Generator

The second way is to use less power from the same source, which is a Power Reduction Strategy.  This is a bit different to the concept outlined in Unlimited Wealth by Paul Zane Pilzer where he shows that we keep finding ways to meet the expansion needs of the future. That is also happening.  The ‘use less power’ approach is about getting more from the existing. The great thing about this is that you can effect a reduction in you Carbon Footprint independent of the Power Generators and so this strategy can run ahead of large scale system changes.

First you have to have a baseline to measure from.  This will become critical for businesses that must show Carbon Footprint reductions once legislation in this area is brought in around the world.  The issue isn’t if, but when this happens, and what the specific details are.  Carbon Trading is an interim measure that allows money to be made off the problem while not actually ensuring there is real progress.  Eventually significant net reductions must happen.

Carbon Footprint Calculation

There is a Carbon Footprint Calculator available at IEEE.  You can see what your Carbon Footprint looks like by clicking on the IEEE picture below

IEEE

IEEE Carbon Footprint Calculator

How did you go?  Some of the questions are not that easy are they?  We often don’t know the source of some of our power or the real Carbon Cost of our lifestyle.

Carbon Footprint Reduction

So reducing the Electronic Power Requirements for Electronic Devices is a primary Green Strategy for reducing your Carbon Footprint. For a complete system the calculation is of course much more complicated.  The survey above is aimed at households but the principle is the same.  A true Carbon Reduction Strategy requires you to consider not only your own operation but upstream and downstream operations as well.

This is of course only one strategy and we will look at others in the near future.  But for my next post I’ll concentrate on design techniques for Reducing Power Consumption in Electronic Appliances so that they become Low Power Electronics Appliances and help to reduce the overall Carbon Footprint.

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  For more information go to his LinkedIn profile. This post is Copyright © Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Electronics Manufacturers are the people we serve

A common question we are asked is what sort of Electronics Manufacturers do we Develop Products for?

So I thought I would compile 3 lists:

  • The first is a list of the Electronics and Embedded Software product types we have worked on
  • The second list is a list of the industries we have Developed Products for
  • And the third list is the Technologies we have worked with so far

I might have to regularly update this third list since knowledge and technology are constantly expanding.  Before I do the lists I’d like to present a video that specifically addresses this last point.  This is very much worth thinking about.  Enjoy.

Electronics and Embedded Software Products

Did you notice the section from 1:45 to 2:15?  We are being prepared for jobs that don’t yet exist, technologies that haven’t been invented, and problems we don’t even know we will have!

Here is the list of some of the Electronics and Embedded Software Products that do already exist and which we have helped to create:

(more…)