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Why Low-Energy Solutions Are Needed To Power The IoT Revolution

October 02, 2017
How prepared are we for the next anticipated computing transformation - the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution?
The evolution of computing technology has long been predicated by ‘Moore’s Law’, a much-quoted observation made by Intel founder, Gordon Moore in 1965. He predicted that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit, would double every two years, to drive exponential growth.

His forecast proved to be correct throughout the early, and middle years, of the computing revolution that began in the 1960s. It is not relevant today however, because immense computing power is now packed into tiny devices. As Moore’s Law diminishes in influence, what are some of the anticipated drivers of computing development – especially widespread IoT adoption? A key factor is energy - the expansion of IoT will require more power – a lot more.

Data is Power Hungry


Whether you’re posting your latest high-res holiday snaps, or delivering vital industrial plant analytics, information technology, and its supporting architecture, requires a lot of energy.

Data centres, the “workhorses” of the digital world, consumed about 3% of global electricity in 2016 - a staggering 416.2 terawatt hours. That’s roughly three times the entire electricity generation of Malaysia in the same year. And that figure is set to treble in the next decade.

Data isn’t the only power hungry element of the digital world. Research published in 2013 estimates that the wider IT infrastructure may account for as much as 10% of global electricity generation. Thus, every swipe or click made on a smartphone, laptop, or tablet, and support from servers, and modems, contributes to a serious “power drain.”

The power drain will intensify because demand for big data, and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions is expected to be all-encompassing. Cisco IBSG for example, predicts that 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, while market research company, MarketsandMarkets estimates the IIoT will be worth $195 billion by 2022. That’s why according to a study paper released by the Semiconductor Association of America, the total global demand for power from computer chips will outpace world energy production by 2040.

Low-Power Solutions for High-Tech Computing

Given this potentially catastrophic scenario, many tech companies and organisations are currently developing new computing solutions that they hope will consume far less power than previous systems.

For example, tech experts at Cambridge University want to build a new architecture for future computing based on superconducting spintronics technology to increase the energy-efficiency of high-performance computers and data storage.

What is Superconducting Spintronics?

The Wire magazine offered this explanation “Superconductivity refers to the fact that at low temperatures some materials carry a charge with zero resistance. Unlike, for example, copper wires, which lose energy as heat, superconductors are therefore extremely energy efficient.

‘Spin’ is the expression for electrons’ intrinsic source of magnetism. Originally it was thought that this existed because electrons were indeed spinning, which turned out to be wrong, but the name stuck, and it is still used to describe the property in particles that makes them behave a bit like tiny bar magnets. Like a magnet, this property makes the electrons point a certain way; the spin state is therefore referred to as ‘up’ or ‘down’.

Through their research and development, the Cambridge University team aims to combine the properties of superconductors, with ‘spintronics’ (to handle big data at high speeds) to create ultra-law power computers capable of managing big data demands and processes.

Next Generation Semiconductors


Gordon Moore would be excited by the development of next generation semiconductors that offer more for less. Researchers at Stanford University are currently investigating the potential for ultra-thin, low-power semiconductors that could leap frog the problems of shrinking modern computing devices, while reducing power demand.

While silicon computing chips are the norm today, new materials such as hafnium diselenide and zirconium diselenide offer exciting opportunities. Stanford researchers believe semiconductors constructed from the new materials could enable them to create transistors that are as much as ten times smaller than silicon ones. In addition, the University of Chicago recently announced the development of ‘atoms-thick’ semiconductor layers that can stick together like Post-It notes.

While IoT is poised to make a gigantic impression, and impact, in all parts of our lives, the technology and components driving the transformation must strive to achieve more with less – especially when it comes to power consumption.