Embedded Systems Energy-Efficient Solutions for Wearables and IoT Edge Nodes

Author / Editor: Dr. Klaus-Peter Dyck * / Sebastian Gerstl

How to approach challenges in terms of performance- and energy- efficiency while designing IoT applications by utilizing synergies within a single product portfolio.

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The special aspects of IoT application sites often make it impossible to reach edge nodes with cable.
The special aspects of IoT application sites often make it impossible to reach edge nodes with cable.
(Bild: Fujitsu Electronics Europe)

The Internet of things is mostly wireless – cables are hardly ever used in the IoT. The special aspects of the applications or remote installation sites often make it impossible to reach edge nodes with a cable. Therefore, the vast majority of things communicates by radio and is not connected to a centralized power grid. The same applies for wearables.

IoT applications are therefore largely dependent on batteries, rechargeable power packs and energy harvesting. However, all of these technologies have certain limitations. For instance, only relatively small energy can be generated by using energy harvesting. Battery and rechargeable power pack-operated devices, on the other hand, incur high maintenance costs since they must be regularly provided with new power storage units or be connected to the charging station. Energy is thus a scarce and valuable commodity with the Internet of Things. Therefore, in order to be successful in this market segment over the long term, the energy efficiency of your applications needs to be a main focus.

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Advantages of near-/sub-threshold technologies

An analysis of the leakage currents in a CMOS IC shows that the optimal voltage range is between 0.4 and 0.5 volts for applications that are considered to be particularly energy-saving. This area is commonly referred to as near- or sub-threshold and plays an important role in the IoT. A basic representation of standard technologies is shown here in figure 1. This clearly shows that leakage currents dominate power consumption starting with a process-dependent threshold.

Fujitsu Electronics Europe (FEEU) is the distribution partner for the Deeply Depleted Channel Technology (DDC) from Mie Fujitsu Semiconductor (MIFS) and offers its customers the chance to realize applications in the low voltage range. Extremely energy-efficient near-/sub-threshold devices can be implemented by using a foundry model. The solutions that MIFS offers are intended for the 55nm and 40nm technologies because mask costs are comparatively low in this range.

The advantages low-voltage technologies have to offer for IoT are obvious. Whereas in most applications a constant increase in performance is the main goal, the IoT often only seeks to carry out certain measurements and then make this data available either on demand or at certain time intervals. The frequency of measurement data recording is often in the range of a few seconds. Therefore, speed is of secondary importance in most cases. This results in the breakdown of the building block shown in figure 2. The left side is permanently operated with the lowest power consumption. Processing and transmission of the data takes place only at certain intervals, which is why the right side can be operated dynamically.

Additional Information
Interview with Axel Tripkewitz
“Accelerating innovation is our core objective”

Axel Tripkewitz: The Managing Director of Fujitsu Electronics Europe GmbH, talks about the successes in recent months and the company’s future strategy in an interview,
Axel Tripkewitz: The Managing Director of Fujitsu Electronics Europe GmbH, talks about the successes in recent months and the company’s future strategy in an interview,
( Bild: Fujuitsu Electronics Europe )

Fujitsu Electronics Europe (FEEU) has acted as a global value added distribution partner since the beginning of the year. How successful have you been in entering this market?

The response has exceeded all expectations. As a global value added distribution partner, we have pursued the goal from the very start of providing our customers not only with products and services, but also supporting them with expertise and new ideas in all stages of a project, from their early plans to the start of production and smooth delivery. These qualities are currently in high demand because many industries are undergoing a process of technological transformation. We were also able to constantly expand our product portfolio in recent months. This means our customers get everything from a single source, instead of having to negotiate with numerous suppliers at the same time.

How does the goal you just mentioned affect what you experience in practice? Where do you create added value?

Our core purpose is to accelerate innovation through smart sourcing and by delivering the appropriate technologies. We offer our customers a global gateway to the best products and services available and the proven Fujitsu supply chain ensures reliable and the fastest possible availability. In addition, our experts have a deep understanding of the markets and technologies they specialize in. Therefore, we can provide our customers with solutions that best meet their needs and fit together seamlessly.

How do you feel the distribution market will change in the years to come?

The products and components are becoming increasingly complex, development times ever shorter and expectations of the products continue to rise. Companies that want to continue to compete need a strong partner who is close to the vendor and has the necessary market expertise. This is where FEEU comes into play: we can fully exploit our qualities in this area. We deliberately do not act as broad liners, but concentrate on a few high-quality vendors and products because we want to offer only the best solutions.

Where do you currently see the greatest innovation progress?

The world is networking more and more rapidly; under the heading IoT, we see innovation progress in almost all aspects of everyday life, such as in the areas of connected cars, Industry 4.0 and the fields of wellness and health, which are increasingly growing together. The days when smartphones were the only networked devices are over: fitness trackers, smart watches, medical wearables and many other devices are gradually moving into the everyday domain. We contribute directly to the progress that is being made in these areas by providing energy-efficient components.

The challenges for the low-voltage range

Working in the low-voltage range comes with a number of challenges. To start with, neither the typical transistor models nor the logic libraries are suited for use in near-/sub-threshold applications. Also, SRAMs no longer function reliably within this range, which makes temporarily storing the collected data practically impossible. The transistor itself, which has been optimized for 0.9 V operation, does not provide optimal results either. The transistor parameters are generally controlled only at rated voltage in subsequent series production.

MIFS addresses these challenges in three ways. First, they offer a transistor as well as the respective simulation models that are specifically designed for the ultra-low voltage range. Second, a logic library and memory compiler designed for low voltage were developed in cooperation with the Swiss research center CSEM. Third, MIFS monitors transistor parameters in production all the way into the sub-threshold region.

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