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IoT: Powering Small Devices

Are the power solutions the IoT needs arriving quickly enough?

The massive game-changing potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices has been limited by a lack of effective power solutions. The solid-state thin film battery market is forecasted to reach $1.3 bil­lion worldwide by 2021 as published by Custom Market Insights. Fueling this growth is the rise of IoT—wear­ables, medical devices and sensors. Traditional battery technologies simply cannot provide the new features and designs that these new applications demand.

However, arriving on the market are thin-film, flexible batteries which are ultra-thin, flexible, rollable, stretch­able and can withstand high temperatures.

Many applications are still emerging, and their require­ments are evolving fast. Because target specs are also very diverse, each with unique requirements for power, thinness, cost, safety, shelf life, reliability, and flex­ibility, a customized power source makes sense.

BrightVolt is one company tackling the demand for small powered solutions.

Figure 1: Traditional battery technologies are giving way to new designs, which can reduce design complexity. (Courtesy BrightVolt)

Figure 1: Traditional battery technologies are giving way to new designs, which can reduce design complexity. (Courtesy BrightVolt)

Low power/long battery life—As IoT infrastructure becomes ubiquitous, many use-cases require designing and building low power and small form factor batteries, both primary and rechargeable. BrightVolt’s Flexion™ batteries have 3.0V, multiple capacity options such as 10, 14, 20, 25mAh and varied tab con­figurations such as extended tab, terminal support, terminal support with ACF. They also have attachment options such as ultrasonic welding, soldering, conductive epoxy and conductive film and a shelf life of 3-5+ years.

Customized—Battery designs are available that are as thin as 0.37mm. For example, BrightVolt Flexion batteries were designed to operate continuously over a wide temperature range (-10 ºC to +60 ºC). They utilize a patented solid polymer electrolyte and contain no volatile liquids or gelling agents. Self-connecting battery terminals using anisotropic conductive film. BrightVolt can custom-build the size, shape, power, capacity, tab configurations and attachment options that are needed for these diverse requirements.

Scalable Manufacturing—BrightVolt has already shipped millions of units. Scalability is our key differentiator. We can take a solution from prototype to full production and anything in between. Our enduring quality, durability, and built-in intelligence is what makes us the best choice for custom product designs.

Safe—It is now possible to find batteries that are non-toxic, non-corrosive and environ­mentally friendly. It’s also important to choose an Inherently safe design that reduces the need for additional battery safety circuitry. Polymer matrix electrolyte provides outstanding thermal stability with no volatile liquids or gels.

Medical Miracles and Thin Batteries

Nanotechnology itself dates back to the 1980s, when U.S. engineer Eric Drexler coined it. Today, nanotechnology and tiny batteries are changing the medical device industry.

Applicable medical uses include the ability to use small form batteries to power the circuitry associated wit skin-based monitoring devices that can detect the glucose levels, for example. Trans­dermal drug delivery and patches could change how injectable drugs are delivered in a more effective time-released manner through a battery-powered patch.

Additionally, the combination of a nanosensor used in conjunction with a smartphone could be used to track auto­immune diseases and cancer. It could also be an effective screening tool for rejection in patients with organ transplants.

Sensors, Smart Packaging and the IoT

It is anticipated that the temperature monitoring market will reach over $3.2 billion by 2020. Smart sensor labels answer the needs for numerous indus­tries, particularly perishable goods. These printed electronics devices and labeling enable the IoT to reduce waste and improve consumer safety.

This technology allows pharmaceutical companies to keep temperature-sensitive products safe and effective, while pre­venting the unnecessary ruin of usable products. Retailers who use temperature-monitoring labels during shipment of produce and other food products as well as cosmetics and off-the-shelf healthcare items will have immediate insight with regards to both shelf life and food safety.

Some of the most ubiquitous wearables are fitness trackers like FitBit and Jaw­bone that hit the market like wildfire in 2013. 1 in 5 Americans today wear this technology to track their activity levels, sleep and more. Wearables will continue to evolve in size, usability, form factors and diverse power needs.

Assisted living and eldercare is another compelling and demanding wearable technology market. Wearable sensors for this market pose massive potential in generating big data for IoT, with a great applicability to biomedicine and ‘ambient assisted living’ (AAL). ‘Ambient intelligence’ in eldercare is being sensi­tive and responsive to the presence of people. Recent advancements in several technological areas have helped the vision of AAL to become a reality. These tech­nologies include of course smart homes, assistive robotics, and, in small form: e-textile, mobile and wearable sensors.

Another significant advancement is detecting common medical issues such as sleep apnea, which used to require an uncomfortable in-clinic sleep study. No more. Today, a patient can wear a device overnight in the privacy of their own home and send the results off to their physician. Other exciting uses include trackers in clothing, interactive toys, games and more.

Embedding Security

Target’s $10 million 2013 class action data breach lawsuit and privacy issue hammered home just how devastating security fraud really is. Since that time, many credit cards are now embedded with an EMV chip but there’s an even better solution emerging. Not only will a small form battery the size of a postage stamp power these new cards, a com­puter chip randomizes the code number about every hour, adding to its security. This renders the card useless to anyone who has written down your card number, expiration date and code. This applica­tion will effectively eliminate ‘card not present’ fraud. Other ultra-thin battery uses in a credit card could allow for a tiny screen on your card itself that displays your balance.

When Apple launched its biometric ID fingerprint reader on its iPhone 5S, many people adjusted quickly to the convenience of the fingerprint password. Building on that same technology, travel documents including drivers’ licenses and passports, as well as vital health information, can be included in one ultra-thin battery-powered, pocket-sized card that fits in your wallet.

Conclusion

By assessing the considerations outlined in this article, a product designer can effectively achieve a small-form factor product able to reliably operate with the right battery. Custom batteries can eliminate design complexities and opti­mize battery use for many applications.


© Matt GreensladeVenetia Espinoza is in charge of market­ing at BrightVolt, a worldwide leader in the design, development and scale manufacturing of thin film batteries. She holds more than 25 years of marketing and product experience with premier technology companies. She also served as Vice President and General Manager of Softcard, a joint venture established by industry giants Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. She holds an MBA and BS de­gree in Industrial Engineering.

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