A New Chip That Consumes Less Energy

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Description and Advantages

A new technology has enabled operation of solar-powered devices in dimly lit rooms and even in twilight. Scientists of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits US in Erlangen, Germany have devised a new chip that functions on minimum power.

Solar cells that provide power for small portable devices such as pocket calculators and wristwatches are common. But even they have limitations to their application. The power and size of the solar cell has to inevitably increase in proportion with the power consumption of the device. Employed in modern electronic letter scales, the solar cell supplies electricity to a force sensor, a signal-processing and control circuit and a liquid crystal display (LCD).

Overcoming this challenge lead to the invention of this new chip. In most cases the chip does not even require battery backup that normally adds up as another part to the device.

Besides it is also possible to dispense off the solar battery if the device's power consumption is reduced. "The power consumption of the chip itself has been minimised. In addition, it is capable of recognising the functions required at any particular instant," explains Hans Hauer who is responsible for the design of mixed signals at the institute. "It has the intelligence to control the supply of electric current, placing non-required functions in an idle state. As a result, the scale consumes less than 0.05 milliwatts - a power level that a small solar cell is capable of delivering even in low light conditions," he added.


The cells are already being used by a private company in different weighing scales that weigh anything from a postal letter to 50-kilogram parcels. Listing applications already been implemented, Hauer said, "We developed special microelectronic circuits for portable detectors to locate electrical wiring in walls, for magnetic-card readers and for Geiger-Muller counters to measure radioactivity."


September 2001