Pushing the Frontiers in Linear Technology for Building Automation

One of the most satisfying aspects for engineers who are driving innovation in ultra-precise linear technology is to enable new classes of circuits to be built that achieve specifications that were not possible before. Enabling technology ushers in enhancements in functionality, reliability, dependability, and accuracy for a wide variety of applications. One of the key objectives for the team at ALD is to enable circuits that enhance sensitivity in sensor arrays.

To provide an example, recent advances in sensor technology have outscaled the electronics that support it. This is where new developments in precision linear devices can provide game-changing capabilities.

Older sensor technology is vulnerable to wide variations in detecting heat, motion, smoke, and other environmental characteristics. This vulnerability sometimes triggers false alarms and other unintended consequences when the imprecise variations within the sensor array report an event erroneously. New sensors have much tighter parameters in variation. This improves their accuracy and, perhaps more importantly, their dependability. A critical element in supplying analog circuits to support the new generations of sensors is providing a wider dynamic range of voltage operation to enable more precision.

Building automation is an application area where demand for high-precision sensor arrays is high. The devices are used to control lighting, heating, power, surveillance, and security and to provide safety. Intelligence is designed into building automation systems by improving the precision in the sensors that constantly monitor and detect the conditions that regulate utility operations. These systems turn on the lights, power, and air conditioning when a person walks into an office and to turn systems off when no one is detected in an office space.

But what if the power, heat, and electricity were shut off while someone was sitting at the computer developing a critical line of code or an urgent presentation? What if the system wasn't accurate enough to detect variations across the enterprise, and productivity suffered as a result? Perhaps in this situation, newer generations of sensors would be accurate enough to achieve desirable results, but the systems supporting them could not meet the exact specifications. There is a quest in this industry to improve the end functionality of sensor arrays and building automation systems by improving the reliability and the dynamic range of the circuits that support them.

For challenges similar to this, Advanced Linear Devices endeavored to create semiconductors that would enable a wider voltage range through ultra-precise specifications. An example of the type of advancement is the ALD210800 Quad Precision N-Channel MOSFET array. The threshold voltage is exactly 0.00V ±10mV. It provides a critical building block for analog circuits that were not possible previously. Ordinarily, most circuit architects would not think such specification was possible or even necessary.

The device greatly expands the useful range of voltage for the latest generation of sensor arrays. With low voltage, low current, and high precision, the device can be used in circuits where there is less than 100mV of supply voltage or substantially less operating overhead. For example, it can be used to build an entire circuit with an operating power of 1nW. It can also be used to build a circuit that increases output drive by eight orders of magnitude.

For next-generation sensors that require a broader voltage range, this MOSFET device is an example of the type of innovation that can help developers meet the most vexing challenges. A device that enables a circuit to be constructed with a wider dynamic range leads to improved sensing capability and increased accuracy for applications like building automation. Challenges such as these drive engineers and scientists to achieve what was previously thought to be impossible. It's really the driving force for developing new frontiers in precision linear devices.

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4 comments on “Pushing the Frontiers in Linear Technology for Building Automation

  1. eafpres
    July 9, 2013

    Hello Robert–thank you for your interesting article.  Many people here know I'm a proponent of sensor applications, and I find it interesting that sensor proliferation is creating new demands in analog.  I think it is almost like some kind of renaissance.  Sensors are the new frontier in many ways for electronics.  Of course there are many technology areas that dominate the media–display tech, processors, optical communications, etc.–but sensors are now fundamental to nearly everything.  Most consumers don't know how many sensors they interact with each day.  Perhaps I'll try counting all the sensors during one week end; I'm sure the number will be large.

    Even with my interest in this, I had not thought of your point about precision.  I think you are quite correct–people are very intolerant if things go on or off unexpectedly.  So any automation that affects the human environment, or interacts with humans, must be very repeatable–which means great precision.  Thank you for this line of thought, I'm sure it will open me more interesting things.

  2. Brad Albing
    July 10, 2013

    @eafpres – To your point that sensor proliferation is creating new demands in analog , just another indication that we'll have jobs for quite a while.

  3. SunitaT
    July 29, 2013

    Wireless radio technology is vital to the success of building automation. It permits the required number, functionality and flexibility of the essential sensors. Radio technology reduces installation times and reduces system costs.

  4. Brad_Albing
    August 6, 2013

    @Sunita – yes – good point – with RF links, cabling can be reduced or eliminated. That eliminates the cost of the cable – and more importantly, the labor costs associated with the cable installation. Those sometimes exceed the cost of the cable.

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