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Debunking IoT-Based myths about analogue electronics

Posted: 29 Sep 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Internet of Things  IoT  digital signal processors  DSP  PWM 

The hype surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) has been nothing short of monumental. The reality is that, by some estimates, only 4 per cent of current IoT proposals will actually be of use once they come to fruition. Despite this disparity, the electronics industry is excited about those few products that will succeed and in turn be profitable.

The corollary concept of the IoT and what will make it successful, however, is still deeply rooted in a host of misinformation that has many believing certain design applications are on their way out the door. One such application is analogue.

A common understanding among many enthusiasts is that everything under the IoT will be dominated by digitally interconnected devices that thrive on both local and group intelligence. For this reason, most believe the future of the IoT will be binary and not analogue, and some have even called into question the capabilities of the latter. The fact of the matter is analogue is ideally positioned to help accelerate the number of successful IoT devices beyond 4 per cent.

Below are three IoT-based myths about analogue, dispelled:

Myth 1: All IoT sensors will transmit their information directly as digital data
We live in the real world, not a digital simulation of it. At the most basic level, all electronics are analogue; digital is just a faster version of analogue. Real world voltages and currents often exceed the 3.3V limits of most digital circuitries and their micro-amp suppliers. So long as there is a need for analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue interfaces, there will always be a need for analogue electronics and data.

What's more, the limited power management capabilities available today severely limit the choice of plausible sensors that can work alongside an IoT processor to transmit information digitally. While temperature and light sensors may get by, others that require a significantly higher voltage output severely restrict an engineer's options.

Myth 2: Any analogue signals will be filtered by digital signal processors (DSPs)
Microprocessors with on-board operational amplifiers, pulse-width modulation (PWM) generators and mixed-signal electronics are actually experiencing a sharp growth curve, contrary to this commonly-accepted myth. There still exists a significant trust barrier among engineers when it comes to digital power suppliers. Many do not feel comfortable working on designs that resist empirical analysis.

Electronics engineers want to be able to look at a circuit schematic and determine how it's supposed to work using performance specifications within the accompanying datasheet. If the circuit doesn't work, they want to be able to troubleshoot it. As soon as digital processing or control enters the mix, the logical link between input and output is lost, hidden in some cryptic part of the coding that can otherwise be avoided with analogue.

Myth 3: Analogue power suppliers will be exchanged for digital power supplies that can adapt to loads
This is perhaps the most widely accepted analogue myth of the three. Certainly, digitally-controlled power modules may be an effective strategy for higher power units with higher expectations for efficiency, and in situations where non-digital control cannot achieve a high power factor or fast response rate for dynamic loads. All power suppliers have performance requirements that stem from analogue-based interactions – be it cabling inductance, unwanted cross coupling between components, stray leakage capacitances or even complex, layered EMC interference signals that many digital simulations do not or cannot take into consideration.

Executives at several notable power supply companies have publicly stated their intent to divert resources away from analogue design and into digital control and feedback. It's important to critically consider, however, that as long as the heart of any power supply is the transformer, then analogue electronics will be at the centre of power supply design within the IoT.

As the Internet of Things continues to gain momentum, the requirement for very low-power analogue suppliers will actually increase. While the number of analogue designers is smaller today, analogue is far from on the way out. The future of analogue is bright and promising within the IoT.

About the author
Steve Taranovich is the Editor-in-Chief of Planet Analog.

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