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Low-cost, low-power wireless gathers steam

Posted: 17 May 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:bluetooth? wireless? zigbee? i-bean? rf?

This section looks at how low-cost, low-power wireless technologies arrive amid a burst of innovation - from ad hoc Bluetooth printer connectivity, to cutting-edge distributed wireless networks and sensors, to extremely low-power implementations of ultrawideband (UWB) radio. Even modulated-magnetic-field schemes are riding the crest of development and interest.

While our emphasis, as usual, is on real-world solutions and practical information for here-and-now schemes like Bluetooth and USB On-The-Go (OTG), we have also looked at noteworthy emerging and farther-off technologies.

For instance, at DemoMobile in early September, Aura Communications Inc. announced the first practical implementation of its LibertyLink near-field magnetic communication link, in a foneGear headset, Cord Free. It uses a single AA alkaline battery to achieve up to 25h of talk time and three months of standby power, thereby challenging Bluetooth, which has been criticized for the brief time span between recharges.

In RF, the momentum behind research into particle-size wireless sensors extends from Berkeley, California, to Glasgow, Scotland. But practical realizations of that research remain a long way off.

Along a shorter timeline, the push for self-organizing, wireless sensor networks is being led by companies like Millennial Net and its i-Bean devices. Based on the IEEE 802.15.4 physical layer (PHY), as well as micropower narrowband interfaces, the devices let sensors and other monitoring and control appliances connect over low-data-rate wireless networks.

Millennial Net has embraced ZigBee, particularly for industrial controls. But continuing to innovate on i-Bean, the company said that it was partnering with Ferro Solutions, a developer of energy-harvesting technologies, and had demonstrated a completely battery-free wireless sensor networking device. That demo, at ISA 2003, converted vibrations into what one Ferro executive called "perpetual power."

With such innovation, the gating factor of battery life for remote wireless sensors and low-rate communications devices may be a thing of the past - and sooner, rather than later.

- Patrick Mannion

EE Times

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