In conversations with customers, we rarely speak of UWB-enabled technology advancements in terms of incremental upgrades. The orders of magnitude performance advantages that SPARK UWB technology provides compared to legacy Bluetooth – 40X better energy efficiency, 60X lower latency – means that we can talk about customers’ design strategies in much broader strokes – as if imagining the application for the first time, or as if considering wireless technology to replace a wired application for the first time.
We’re reminded of this as we approach the Sensors Converge conference (September 21-23, San Jose, CA) where we anticipate many of these kinds of conversations. They won’t center on important but somewhat pedestrian questions like, “Can UWB sensors help shave a couple bucks off my electric bill?”
SPARK UWB sensors can do much better than that! We prefer to think in these terms: What if you could design the perfect sensor?
Without addressing whether UWB can help sensor designers achieve such ambitious design goals (spoiler alert: it can), let’s consider what that perfect sensor might look like.
The advantages of wireless sensors over hardwired sensors are immediately obvious to anyone who’s ever installed them or scrutinized the respective BOM costs. Wireless sensors are cheaper and faster to deploy, maintain and repurpose than hardwired sensors. If you aggregate this advantage and cost savings across a network of sensors – from a minor installation to a massive mesh network – the benefits are crystal clear.
As an added benefit, wireless sensor connectivity means you won’t have to drill countless destructive holes into your infrastructure to accommodate a cumbersome tangle of sensor wires, whether that infrastructure belongs to a smart city, smart port, smart factory, smart condo building, and/or everything in between.
For the next generation of sensors targeted for use in autonomous vehicles and smart infrastructure – among countless other AI-guided commercial and industrial apps – sample rates of once an hour or even once a minute won’t be anywhere close to enough to satisfy AI’s insatiable data demand. These sensor systems absolutely require 24/7 ‘always on’ availability for live telemetry that ensures continuous access to the most up-to-date data available. These sensors can’t be powered down between samples to save energy – for the sensor networks of tomorrow, there is no downtime.
Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate the impending need for ‘always on’ sensor connectivity is to envision roadways filled with self-driving vehicles relying on real-time positioning and safety data from surrounding vehicles and infrastructure in order to safely traverse our cities and suburbs at high speeds. Their automated reaction times must be nearly instantaneous, and this would be impossible with sensors supporting anything less that continuous availability, data sampling and communication.
Sensors designed for ‘always on’ live telemetry can help enable near real-time monitoring, and this is critical for a wide range of apps and environments, from our highways to our assembly lines, to our municipal infrastructure and everywhere else. Real time data monitoring ensures that no data escapes our attention and can be acted upon immediately.
This will be particularly valuable for apps like automated inspection, surveillance, and object detection and recognition, with far-reaching implications affecting everything from the quality of the products outputted by our assembly lines to the security threats posed by unknown intruders and objects. For these types of applications, ‘always on’ live telemetry must be complemented with extreme low-latency communication. A smart camera, for example, may only have a split second to pinpoint and communicate a security threat amid a deluge of data points.
We saved the best for last, because this one is really important. Why can’t today’s wireless sensors maintain ‘always on’ operations with continuous data sampling and high-speed communication? It’s simply too power intensive for Bluetooth-based sensors – they can’t keep up.
The onboard Bluetooth chip consumes a needlessly disproportionate 80% of the entire sensor power budget on average today. This means that the sensor batteries must be frequently recharged or replaced, a time and resource intensive process. Or as a significant compromise, the sensor simply cannot continuously send its telemetry and needs to burst chunks of data between long time intervals, defeating the ‘always on’ paradigm. It’s for this reason that many of today’s sensor networks are still reliant on hardwired connectivity, even after all the progress we’ve made in high-performance wireless connectivity in recent decades.
SPARK UWB-based sensors can turn this energy efficiency metric on its head, ensuring that a mere 20% or less of the sensor power budget is consumed by the wireless comms chip. Depending on how you’re using your sensors, this could enable ‘set it and forget it’ sensor installations that operate for many years before a drained battery ever becomes an issue. With so little power consumed by the UWB chip, this also opens the door to a future of battery-less sensors powered by nothing more than ambient indoor light, or even body heat.
We invite customers to visit with us at Sensors Converge at booth #1013, where a SPARK expert can help you envision – and achieve – the wireless connectivity your sensors have been waiting for. To arrange a meeting in advance, contact SPARK