When you were growing up did your mom ever yell at you to, “Turn off those lights!”? Did your dad ever say, “If you want to turn on the A/C you’ll have to pay for it!”? If so, your family was probably a bunch of penny pinchers like mine. If not, I guess you lived a bright life of luxury in comfortable temperatures. While my parents have always enjoyed hunting around the house for lights that have been left on, the Internet of Things (IoT) may soon take that pleasure from them. Innovative PCB designs have allowed the IoT to move into our homes and jobs and save us energy and money. The Nest thermostat, Philips Hue light bulb, and AgriHouse leaf sensor are all IoT devices that use novel PCBs to reduce wastage in our lives, and save us money.
The Nest may remind you of Hal 9000, but will save you money not try to kill you.
Efficient Heating and Cooling
My sister has always been hot natured. She hates being hot so much that she would turn on the air conditioning when she left to go play sports so that when she came back the house would be cold. Needless to say, that was a pretty inefficient system that “wasted” a lot of electricity. Nest has set out to reduce heating and cooling wastage with their “smart” thermostat system, made possible by “smart” PCB design.
Like the government, the Nest thermostat spies on you in order to predict your actions. In this case, the actions of interest are turning on or off your heating or cooling. After a few days of tracking when you turn the air conditioning up or down, the Nest starts to learn your temperature preferences. When you’re away at work it will turn the air conditioning off, and then turn it on in time for you to arrive to a cool house. In addition, the Nest thermostat has smartphone features that allow you to control the temperature of your home from wherever you are. Nest claims that they have saved over 12 billion kWh of energy with their “smart” thermostats. That translates into a lot of saved money.
Money is great, but what about the PCB behind this money saving device?. I’m sure engineers have been pining for this kind of technology for centuries, but recent advances in PCB design have only just made this kind of system possible. You know that the Nest needs to gather data, interpret that data (or send it off to be interpreted), implement a schedule based on interpreted data, and interact with a smartphone in order to do its job. The Nest also needed some poor to cram everything into a housing the size of a hockey puck.
I have an idea, an IoT light bulb!
The lights were another bone of contention in our house. My sister and I like everything to be well lit, and my parents like to save as much money as possible. The shrinking size of PCBs has also allowed light bulbs to join the ranks of connected devices.
I bought my first IoT light bulb years ago. At first my wallet balked at the purchase, because the bulb and the controller together cost around $50. As time goes on, though, my wallet has seen the long term cost savings of my WiFi bulb. I often forget to turn off lights when I leave the house. Now I can turn them off remotely with my smartphone. I even wrote my own program that turns the lights on when I wake up, off when I go to work, etc. Most users won’t write their own programs, but they’ll still be able to save a few cents by turning off the lights after they’ve left home.
The real cost savings, though, come from the same technology that allows the bulbs to exist. Almost all IoT light bulbs use LED chips to light up rooms, instead of fluorescent or incandescent bulbs. Where incandescent bulbs last around 1200 hours and CFL bulbs last about 10,000 hours, LEDs last up to 50,000 hours. You may have to pay a bit more upfront, but you’ll make up for it by never having to purchase one again.
LED bulbs also use less electricity to produce the same amount of light as incandescent and CFL bulbs. LEDs are a fairly recent technology, and are very small. Combine them with a WiFi chip and a AC to DC converter and you’ve got yourself a wireless light bulb. Incandescent and CFL bulbs can’t be applied the same way because they’re already quite large. Add in a PCB for wireless connectivity and you’ve got yourself a huge light bulb that no one wants to buy.
Efficient Water Usage
Despite the huge amount of strange IoT devices, one I never expected to see was a leaf sensor. However, AgriHouse, in conjunction with NASA, has produced just that.
AgriHouse’s leaf sensor keep track of when a plant needs to be watered. This can help farmers save lots of money. Rather than having to go around the farm and check which plants need to be watered, this sensor will text you. Instead of sticking to a watering schedule that can under or overwater plants, this sensor will let you know exactly when they need water. Farmers use 70% of the world’s water, and much of it is wasted in inefficient irrigation systems. This leaf sensor can let farmers water their plants more accurately, instead of guessing when to water. This sensor can also let farmers know if there is leakage in their irrigation system. If you turn on the water and later the sensor says the plants are still dry, you know there’s a break in a pipe somewhere. This system could help farmers greatly reduce their water usage and save lots of money.
The interesting thing about the leaf sensor is that it actually clamps onto a leaf. Most leaves I’ve seen are pretty flimsy. It’s quite impressive that their PCB designers were able to make a sensor small and light enough that it can sit on a leaf. Needless to say, this small, lightweight technology has only been available recently.
Innovate with Software
It’s clear that the Internet of Things is going to drive engineers to make more and more innovative PCB designs. These IoT devices and designs will help us to make our lives more efficient, and hopefully save us money. In order to build an innovative future, you need innovative tools. You’ll need some PCB design software that is on the cutting edge and can help you design for tomorrow. CircuitStudio® is just that design software. has lots of cutting edge features that can help you enable the next generation of IoT devices
Have more questions about PCB design for IoT? Call an expert at Altium.