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IoT Storage Technologies: Ultra Low Power CBRAM

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: July 17, 2017  |  Updated: September 25, 2020

Computer hard drive


Do you remember using those old floppy disks back in the day? I remember my computer had two floppy disk drives. You’d put the disk with your program in one and a disk for the data in the other. Eventually, the incredible invention that is the hard drive came about and storage space exploded. Our memory capacity is still increasing, but now size is becoming less of a factor. When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT) energy usage is the next big thing. People are envisioning everything from smart appliances to smart cities, and in order for those things to work we’re going to need very low power memory. That’s where ultra low power CBRAM (conductive bridging random access memory) comes in. Adesto is the primary company pushing this technology, which may be able to operate at 1/100th of the power of other storage technologies.


Floppy disks and floppy drive
Thank goodness these are no longer necessary.


Low Power Requirements

I just said storage size doesn’t matter, but I lied. As devices shrink they need physically smaller memory that can operate on tiny batteries. Wearables, in particular, are driving this trend towards petite form factors and efficient energy usage. In addition to miniature machines wide area IoT sensor networks also require low power solutions.


Not only has memory increased, so has computing power. They say our smart phones today are millions of times more powerful than the computers NASA used on their trip to the moon. Wearable electronics aren’t quite there yet, but they’re headed that way. Not only are they becoming more powerful, but smart watches are also starting to integrate sensing and already have advanced user interfaces (UI) and support applications. Processors, sensors, and apps all need energy efficient memory to run. Otherwise, you’ll have to take off your watch to charge it multiple times per day, and no one wants that.


Another area that really requires low power are the devices used in low power wide area networks (LPWANs). People have been envisioning a “smart city” for ages. One where cars can park themselves, infrastructure is efficiently monitored and maintained, and data is mined for the public good. What do all of these systems have in common? They all use hundreds or thousands of sensors spread over large areas, thus the need for LPWANs. Low power is part of the LPWAN acronym, so obviously it’s important. If you’re monitoring city water system with thousands of sensors underground you probably don’t want to replace the batteries every 3 months. That’s why you need low power memory solutions for these sensors as well as low power networks. All of these sensors will need memory in order to farm data and send it off to wherever it goes.


ADAS car parking into stall
Using CBRAM will be like jumping from the floppy disk to the hard drive.


CBRAM for the IoT

Just like how Seagate revolutionized the memory industry with its small form factor hard drive, Adesto is working on the next step for low power memory. They have developed a type of CBRAM that can use significantly less energy than current low power technologies. In fact, this memory is so low power, in some cases it doesn’t even need to use batteries.


CBRAM is a new kind of non-volatile memory that belongs in the category of “resistive RAM.” That non-volatile part is quite important, as it means that CBRAM, like flash memory, can store data even when not connected to electricity. This feature will allow CBRAM to power down into a deep sleep state where it won’t consume power when not being used. When operating, Adesto’s CBRAM will be able to read and write using 1/100th of the energy of comparative solutions like flash. Those are the kinds of numbers that the IoT has been waiting for. With power requirements that low, some circuits won’t even need batteries.


Batteries are the bane of large sensor networks. You know if your device has a battery and isn’t connected to a charging system, it will eventually die. That’s why people are now making chips that can harvest energy while in operation and either charge batteries or eliminate them altogether. Adesto’s CBRAM is so low power, that it can theoretically operate powered solely by these kinds of harvesting chips. Imagine never having to go down into a sewer system to change a sensor battery again. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, imagine never having to charge your smart fork or sock sensor again. CBRAM can take us there.


The Internet of Things is an exciting industry, but it still faces challenges. Along with figuring out how to give devices common sense, the IoT also needs low power circuits. Energy efficient boards need electrically economical memory solutions. CBRAM is one potential technology that could meet the IoT’s storage power requirements.


I know you’re excited to get out there and start designing with this new memory component. If you’re thinking you may need some cutting edge software to go with this next gen technology, try CircuitStudio. It has a wide range of advanced features that will reduce the energy required to complete your work.

Have more questions about storage for the IoT? Call an expert at Altium.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2500+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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