New Battery-less IoT Transmitter the Size of a Quarter

Solar-powered BLE sensors can transmit temperature and humidity data for commercial, industrial and transit settings.

For over 30 years, Cypress Semiconductor Corporation has been developing advanced embedded system solutions for engineers in industries ranging from industrial applications to medical products. Naturally, as the world of automated devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow at an exponential rate, the company has found itself in the middle of the intersection between out-of-the-box thinkers and disruptive markets.

The Solar BLE Sensor transmits temperature and humidity data using the BLE broadcasting mode. (Image courtesy of Cypress Semiconductor.)

The Solar BLE Sensor transmits temperature and humidity data using the BLE broadcasting mode. (Image courtesy of Cypress Semiconductor.)

More recently, the company introduced a coin-sized Solar-Powered BLE Sensor Beacon Reference Design Kit for hardware developers. The low-cost IoT application helps engineers to develop products that can sense the temperature and humidity around a location and transmit that data, as well as other information, using Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) connectivity.

For instance, a factory could collect environmental data and equipment downtime via other sensors and transfer that data to maintenance personnel. Or the sensors could be used in a transit setting to notify passengers when the next vehicle will arrive.

The sensor beacon runs on low power so it can be left alone without the need for regular battery maintenance. This makes the IoT sensor ideal for monitoring a range of environmental conditions ranging from as small as an apartment to commercial buildings and even outdoor facilities.

To optimize power for the battery-free beacon design, Cypress integrated special energy-harvesting power management circuits along with a 15- by 15-mm solar cell. As a result, the beacon can get enough power from just 100 lux of ambient light; this is less light then in an average warehouse aisle.

“Our Solar-Powered BLE Sensor Beacon Reference Design Kit features robust, low-power sensing and wireless connectivity in a small form factor that can be easily deployed for more than a decade with no maintenance costs, addressing the most significant design challenges facing the expected rapid growth of industrial IoT devices,” said Kiyoe Nagaya, vice president of the Analog Business Unit at Cypress. “End customers can get to market quickly using the reference design as a mass production model that can be easily programmed and optimized for a diverse range of innovative applications.”

Cypress’ battery-free Bluetooth smart beacons and wireless sensor nodes include its harvesting power management IC and easy-to-use EZ-BLE PRoC module. (Video courtesy of Cypress Semiconductor.)

In total, the $49 kit includes the solar-powered BLE sensor beacon, a BLE-USB bridge and a debug board that can be connected to a host PC via a USB interface for on-chip debugging of the sensor beacon. For those with larger project ideas on their mind, Cypress is also offering an expansion pack for $99 that includes five additional solar-powered BLE sensor beacons.

For what applications would you use such an IoT sensor beacon? Comment below.

About the Author

Simon Martin is a writer and industrial designer in New York City.