Making the Internet of Things happen

Wentzloff aims to remove the necessity of a power outlet or even a battery to power miniature sensors.

Prof. David Wentzloff Enlarge
Professor David Wentzloff

Prof. David Wentzloff is helping to make a worldwide Internet of Things more than a dream through his research in low-power wireless communication, and more recently through his new startup company called PsiKick.

The key to an “Internet of things” is an integrated sensor network that connects virtually anything that can be measured or sensed to the Internet. These powerful little devices will one day be sensing countless details (did you get enough sleep last night, did you lock the door behind you, how should you drive to work to avoid traffic, are the machines in your factory operating properly, etc), and sending that information to the Internet to be deciphered and ultimately to alert you to take action as needed.

Prof. Wentzloff aims to make this a reality by removing the necessity of a power outlet or even a battery to power miniature sensors. His specific research focuses on the radios, antennas, and interfaces needed in low-power integrated circuits for wireless communication in applications that require small form size and no external power source.

Nathan Roberts Enlarge
Nathan Roberts testing the receiver on a test board. The receiver measures 160 µm by 190 µm, and was fabricated on a 1 mm2 chip (shown in relief) using a 130 µm CMOS process.

Here at Michigan, Prof. Wentzloff collaborates with Prof. David Blaauw and Prof. Dennis Sylvester on wireless, ultra-low-power millimeter-scale computing devices. In 2011, Prof. Wentzloff and his group developed a consolidated radio with an on-chip antenna that doesn’t need the bulky external crystal that engineers typically rely when two isolated devices need to talk to each other. Measuring less than 1 cubic millimeter in size, it was created with the goal of enabling similarly-sized devices to be able to communicate with other devices as part of a wireless sensor network comprised of millimeter-scale devices. In recent work with doctoral candidate Nathan Roberts, Prof. Wentzloff designed an ultra-low power receiver that consumes about 500x less power than other state-of-the-art devices used for short-range wireless communications.

In related work, Prof. Wentzloff has been collaborating for several years with Prof. Ben Calhoun at the University of Virginia on an EKG monitor; the two were graduate students in the same research group at MIT.

In 2012, he and Prof. Calhoun created a wireless, battery-free EKG monitor that can detect atrial fibrillation using about 1000x less power than that needed to power similar commercial, state-of-the-art systems. The device has a single chip equipped with a power management system that can draw power from a thermoelectric generator or a solar cell, freeing it from a dependence on batteries. In fact, it can sit on someone’s skin and get all the power it needs simply from the difference in temperature between the skin and the room temperature.

Prof. Wentzloff was responsible for the radios, clock generation, and low frequency analog in the EKG monitor while Prof. Calhoun handled the digital components of the chip and the power management. They started the company PsiKick to bring this technology to the marketplace, where the applications are nearly limitless. PsiKick has licensed intellectual property from both the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia.

PsiKick logo Enlarge

PsiKick aims make the Internet of Things a reality with its complete systems-on-chip that operate on such low levels of energy that they are able to acquire the energy they need to operate through autonomous energy-scavenging techniques. The company’s goal is to be a supplier of the chips that will be the brains of all sorts of wireless sensing devices, as well as the EKG monitor already developed. To start, Prof. Wentzloff envisions the chips being used for general wellness monitoring (ie, heart rate, temperature, perspiration), as well as being embedded into washable clothing for both consumer and military applications.

PsiKick, pronounced like the word “psychic,” is a reference to the capability of these devices to convey information about the world around us and within us in seemingly mysterious ways.

The company will kick into high gear in 2014 with plans to expand their technical staff and move into production later in the year.

Prof. Wentzloff directs the Wireless Integrated Circuits and Systems Group. He received a 2013 CAREER award to develop ultra-low power radios for energy-autonomous systems, and he is PI of an NSF project to build and disseminate millimeter-scale devices around the world to facilitate research in this area. Prof. Wentzloff is also developing the wireless component for the next generation of personalized health devices as a member of the NSF Nanosystems Engineering Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technology (ASSIST), led by North Carolina State University

David Wentzloff; Electronics, Devices, Computers; Entrepreneurship and Tech Transfer; Integrated Circuits and VLSI; Internet of Things; Research News