IBM debuts new semiconductor tech; promises smarter buildings, grid, transport

IBM's new chip-making tech could help connected buildings, the power grid and transportation operate more efficiently. The key: wireless power management.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

IBM on Thursday announced new chip-making technology made for power management semiconductors that could help connected buildings, the power grid and transportation operate more efficiently.

The company says its process integrates wireless RF [radio frequency] communication capabilities into a single power-management chip. The company says the feat cuts production costs by 20 percent of more, and allows for the fabrication of smaller chips that can control power usage and wirelessly communicate with systems in real time.

That's important because semiconductors not only show up in mobile consumer electronics devices such as laptop computers and smartphones, but also increasingly in applied settings such as in buildings, transportation and, of course, the smart grid.

As their name suggests, power management chips exist primarily to optimize power usage -- a bridge for electricity to flow through a system or device.  Any device with a power supply, battery or power cord uses a power-management chip, and they're important for a number of industries, including clean technology (solar panels), the auto industry and consumer electronics, primarily in digital televisions and mobile phones.

IBM calls its process CMOS-7HV, and says the result is a chip that can take the place of three or four. Cheaper, smaller, more powerful -- such is the march of technological development, and the new process helps accelerate the rollout of smart, IT-driven systems that are made up of networks of lots of inexpensive sensors.

There's money to be made, too: the market for power management semiconductors is pegged at $31 billion, with a growth trajectory that suggests a doubling by 2014. And in the race to develop a better battery for electronics, a power-sipping chip allows manufacturers to use smaller, lighter, cheaper batteries.

Quick stats about wireless PM chips:

  • Wireless PM chips can optimize electrical output for an entire array, "harvesting up to 57% of the power that is typically lost to real-world conditions such as dirty panels."
  • Wireless PM chips can cut up to 30 percent off the weight of the car’s wiring harnesses.
  • Wireless PM chips help smart buildings avoid hard wiring -- especially important for retrofits, the majority of the market -- and offer up to a 50 percent improvement in efficiency, IBM says.

    IBM has scheduled full production for its chip tech for the first half of 2011.

    This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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