Ambiq Harvest Kit Captures Sensor Data Without Batteries

By Claire Swedberg

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  • The soon-to-be released reference design from Ambiq includes sensor technology from Bosch Sensortec to track gas, humidity, pressure and temperature.
  • With PV energy capture, the devices make wireless sensors easier to deploy and data available via BLE or LoRaWAN.

Global technology company Ambiq is preparing a June commercial release of its Harvest Kit, an energy-harvesting reference design embedded with a low-power environmental sensor with AI for gas, pressure, humidity, and temperature from Bosch Sensortec.

The IoT system enables companies to build wireless sensing solutions, using harvested energy, based on micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) for consumer electronics.

The Bosch ME688 sensors detect the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), and other gases such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen in part per billion (ppb) range. The company also offers TDK’s ICM-45605 MEMS motion sensor.

Solar Power Eliminates Need for Battery

Ambiq’s Apollo3 Blue System on Chip (SoC) enables the HarvestKit to function as a high-performance edge computing node. It can employ AI and other algorithms while drawing its energy from the environment, eliminating the need for batteries, said Ambiq’s business development marketing director, Chad Solomon.

The first generation of the Harvest Kit employs a photovoltaic cell from Panasonic converting indoor or solar light to electricity. As long as the device receives a source of light, that energy is then used to charge a super capacitor on the Ambiq board. Alternatively, the additional energy can be used to recharge a smaller battery to reduce the system’s environmental impact.

A device using the reference design can then transmit the sensor data via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to a PC or other Bluetooth device.

In early demonstrations, the company used a variety of environmental data to test sensor inputs. One individual who had been vaping tobacco, exhaled over the device “and we watched the air quality just dive in in real time,” said Solomon.

Wireless Smart Building Controls

Users can train the BME688 sensor for a wide variety of use cases, via its BME AI-Studio software tool. Some potential applications include smart homes, odor detection, indoor air quality, diaper states for childcare, and food spoilage from bacteria growth.

Companies testing the new reference design have included developers of smart building access controls for functions such as tracking how many people are in a room, to automatically turn lights on and off.

And while the early version uses PV-based energy, (that can be drawn from fluorescent lighting in buildings), future versions could draw energy from other ambient sources such as the RF energy emitted from routers Wi-Fi, and cellular extenders that can be used to help offload leakage current.

Video Games, Wearables

Companies interested in the new technology include those that make remote controls and video game controllers. For instance, some solar-powered TV remotes now are being built with a photovoltaic cell on the backside so that, each time a user puts their remote face-down on the coffee table, it can recharge its batteries.

Ambiq is also working with companies that make wearable devices. Such devices can include wireless trackers including intelligent wristbands that can be attached to standard, non-digital watches.

The technology can be used for other consumer-based solution such as managing personal possession as well as pets, Solomon pointed out. One example would be a smart collar that could track data related to a pet’s health, location and activities.

Because the reference design is low power, Solomon stated users “can run the entire design off of a super capacitor, if you’re able to pull enough energy out of the environment” and cited small wearable as devices that would not require recharging. For beyond wearables, the sensors can monitor the health of highways, rails or bridges based on strain detection.

Industrial Sensors in the Form of Dots

Other use cases for the design include factory automation and predictive failure analysis to track conditions related to equipment in industrial settings with a network of low cost, wireless sensors. With temperature, moisture or vibration detection, such devices could forecast when a piece of equipment could require repair or replacement.

Solomon referred to the sensors as wireless dots that could be placed all over a factory to detect an overheating part, vibration or even the gas released when a rubber belt is wearing out.

The devices then rely on AI algorithms, running directly on the endpoints to be able to determine if there’s an anomaly that might require an alert.

“That will give the operator a chance to initiate some repairs and by doing that on the edge you’re not having to power up your radios nearly as much and so you can extend your battery life significantly,” commented Solomon.

If that sensor data enables the piece of equipment to be repaired or replaced before it fails, a production facility could be spared from shutting down an entire production line.

Releasing in June

The company intends to officially release the Harvest Kit in time for June electronics event Sensors Converge in Santa Clara, CA, where they will demonstrate the technology with Bosch Sensortec; and with TDK at InvenSense. Shipping begins in August.

While early versions of the Harvest Kit uses SoCs with BLE functionality, they also provide connectivity via Zigbee radios for mesh networking capabilities, LoRaWAN or Narrowband- (NB-) IoT for long range, lower data transmissions such as management of livestock in wide areas as well.

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