Researchers create new power-saving chip for waking up small wireless devices

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have created a new power-saving chip that could significantly reduce or eliminate the need to replace batteries in IoT devices and wearables. The chip is called the wake-up receiver, and it is designed to wake up a device only when it needs to communicate and perform its function. The rest of the time, the device stays dormant to reduce power needs.The tech is useful for applications that don't require constant data transmission. The chips could be used in IoT devices to allow consumers to instantly order household items they are about to run out of, for instance. The chip might also be useful in wearable health monitors that only need to take a handful of readings each day.

Right now, the tech in these devices doesn't know when it needs to sync data with the network. That means the devices periodically wake up to communicate even if there is nothing to communicate. That costs the device a lot of power.

The wake-up receiver is an ultra-low-power chip that continuously looks out for a specific radio signal known as a wake-up signature. That signal tells it when to wake up the main device. The wake-up receiver needs small amounts of power to stay on and perform its task as 22.3 nanowatts. That is about half a millionth of the power required to run an LED nightlight.

One key aspect of the design is that it targets a higher frequency radio signal than other wake-up receivers. The signals are in the frequency of 9 gigahertz, which is n the realm of satellite communications, air traffic control, and vehicle speed detection. By targeting the higher frequency, the antenna, transformer, and other off-chip components were able to shrink down.