Texas Instruments has released a power converter that lets designers build ultra-low-power consumer electronics, bolstering a trend in the industry toward managing power by promoting energy harvesting.
TI said in a press release that the TPS62736 DC/DC step-down converter -- which it calls the lowest-power device of its kind in the industry -- "increases the amount of harvested energy an end application can use as much as 70 percent over alternative devices."
The converter's low-power circuit "enables battery-free power to applications, such as wireless sensor networks, monitoring systems, smoke detectors, wearable medical devices and mobile accessories."
The TPS62736 DC/DC converter "delivers high power conversion efficiency from 10 uA to 50 mA output currents, and consumes only 350 nA of active current and 20 nA during standby," according to TI. "The converter achieves greater than 90 percent efficiency across output currents higher than 15uA." Its regulator "steps down the voltage from a power source, such as a thin-film or regular battery or a super capacitor and features a programmable output voltage."
Electronics designers are working to create a new generation of products that run on their own power or very low-power batteries.
"One of the trends in power design (some may call it a 'space race') is to see 'how low can you go' with power management," Niranjan Pathare, business development manager in TI's power management division, told us in an email. "Extracting nano-power energy from the light in a room, from body heat or vibrations in a vehicle is one thing. Managing microwatts to milliwatts of power to operate a smart wireless network or extend battery life is an art."
TI's new converter attempts to be proficient in that art form by allowing designers to develop circuits with the lowest operating power possible to support energy-harvesting designs, Pathare said. "The great news is that this capability will open the door to new applications, such as heart monitors or home health portable electronics, that people haven't even dreamed about yet."
Other researchers are taking energy harvesting in other directions. For example, researchers at the University of Michigan's department of aerospace engineering recently developed technology that can harvest energy from the human heartbeat to power a pacemaker. This could eliminate the need for batteries in the device.
TI is working on other energy-harvesting ideas. This quarter, it plans to launch a chip that will enable electronics to harvest energy from ambient light in a room. At CES this week in Las Vegas, TI is demonstrating a smoke detector developed by Italy's Argus Security that leverages the forthcoming chip, which can extend the life of the device to as much as eight years.
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