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Environmental IoT Electronics: Keeping Consumers Sustainable

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If we measure progress in terms of kitchen appliances, our society has made the great leap forward. Less than one hundred years ago, the first electric refrigerator became available. Now--because of the Internet of Things, we have refrigerators that can show us their ingredients and make suggestions about things to purchase. Smart, IoT-enabled ovens can tell busy wives that the chicken and vegetables have finished cooking. And...this is only the beginning.

The same technological revolution has taken root in industries ranging from electric utilities to manufacturing facilities. The Industrial Internet of Things--with its interconnected sensors, actuators, and instrumentation attached to critical industrial equipment gives maintenance teams a head start on spotting potential failures, planning for repairs, and controlling downtime.

As the current and future applications continue to evolve, the Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT) will push everything to a new level by enhancing the IoT and IIoT through machine learning and cognitive software.

Energy Controls Work Through the IoT

Internet-connected devices benefit the environment by allowing individuals, companies, and cities to manage and conserve energy and water resources. Home thermostats, office and apartment environmental control systems, and utility smart meters sample and provide the data needed to predict resource use and make any required adjustments.

Home energy controls connected to the IoT can monitor the entire home or monitor specific outlets. As an example, some types of home energy monitoring systems attach individual sensors to each of the circuit breakers found in a house electric panel and obtain data from the home electrical system. In a typical implementation, the sensors track approximately 20,000 samples of electrical usage per second and transfer the raw data through a wireless network to the analytics software operating in the cloud.

Other systems employ a monitor that connects to the service mains of a home electrical panel through current sensors. The 1 MHz sampling rate provided by the monitor circuitry allows it to analyze four million data points per second. As the monitor transfers data through a wireless network to cloud-based servers, algorithms analyze and look for patterns in the real-time current and voltage.

The high-resolution data obtained from the different types of sensors includes unique electrical signatures of equipment running on the circuit along with usage data. Determining the electrical signature of an appliance occurs through the use of machine learning algorithms that derive magnitude, phase, and frequency information to identify individual appliances. As an example, refrigerators cycle on and off at regular intervals during each day while HVAC systems have frequent long cycles at higher temperatures. Other data allows the software to monitor small and large appliances, build an individual operating model of the appliance, identify possible faults, and diagnose problems. Homeowners can view graphical representations of the data through a SmartPhone App.

Systems-on-a-Chip Technologies Help Conserve Energy

The availability of systems-on-a-chip (SOC) technologies have allowed IoT and IIoT energy management systems (EMS) to have smaller footprints, higher densities, reduced parasitics, less energy consumption, and lower costs. SOC technologies integrate an entire electronic system or computer system into a signal platform. An SOC device may include:

  • Microprocessors

  • Microcontrollers

  • USB, Ethernet, HDMI ports

  • Wireless and Bluetooth technologies

  • Random-access, read-only, electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM), and flash memory

  • Other circuit building blocks such as regulators, timers, oscillators, clocks, digital-to-analog converters, and analog-to-digital converters.

Newer IoT-based energy management systems for controlled street lighting, building automation, and smart meters function through SOC technologies such as hybrid mesh networks-on-a-chip, IoT gateways, and intelligent systems-on-a-chip. Those technologies allow an EMS to cover larger areas, process large volumes of data, and handle hundreds of users for building automation.

For example, a hybrid mesh network SOC allows a building automation system to connect with cloud-based applications through network connections that cover a large area and a mix of network topologies. Any connected node shares an Internet connection with other in-range nodes. IoT gateways include processors along with bluetooth and wireless network circuits. The gateways allow Bluetooth- and WiFi-equipped products to connect to the Internet.

Futuristic energy management system on glass tablet

Energy management systems are among the best ways to keep power under control.


Intelligent systems-on-a-chip collect data but also identify different data points before transmitting the data to IoT-based analytic and monitoring software. For a building automation system that includes energy management, the intelligence contained on the SOC processes data points such as individual preferences, outdoor conditions, office usage, time-of-day, illumination and air quality. Multi-agent control within the intelligent SOC considers those constraints while optimizing the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system for energy conservation.

Companies Use the IIoT to Achieve Environment Benefits with Older Equipment

Even though recently manufactured motors, pumps, and other heavy machinery meet or surpass energy efficiency standards, replacing older legacy equipment can cost millions of dollars. However, upgrading the equipment to allow connectivity to the IIoT and the use of energy management systems establishes a cost-benefit. The upgrades require adding different types of sensors that measure force, pressure, velocity, flow, current, humidity, temperature, and other properties. While those sensors may include thermistors, thermocouples, and resistance temperature detectors, solid state sensor ICs offer enhanced accuracy, greater noise immunity, lower power consumption, and the capability to connect to servers, gateways, or cloud-based database applications through wireless mesh networks.

Along with managing energy consumption, connecting existing equipment to the IoT also allows companies to monitor and cut carbon emissions by achieving greater energy efficiency. These benefits occur through continuously monitoring of load conditions, predicting overheating, and obtaining the optimal performance of equipment. In addition, IIoT applications allow managers to use a single dashboard to determine the most energy efficient schedules for operating equipment.

IoT Technologies Help Conserve Water

Much of the interest surrounding IoT environmental applications has focused on energy management. Yet, IoT applications have also become instrumental in conserving water. As with many energy management systems, the IoT technologies used for water management begin with smart sensors and smart meters.

Field of alternative energy sources and storage units

Working through what proper IoT management can do is a challenge of innovation.


Smart sensors consist of micro-electromechanical system sensor elements integrated with CMOS integrated circuits as a system-on-a-chip. The CMOS ICs amplify signals, provide device bias voltages, and process signals. At the consumer level, smart sensors decrease the load on other computing resources by only transmitting data if a measured change shows a significant difference from samples of normal values.

Sensors attached to water supply lines can detect changes in pressure and flow and then convert the real-time data into a digital data stream for transmission. Software compares those changes to levels that normally occur with an operating appliance. If the levels indicate a leak, the system warns the owner about the leak and then--based on the location of the sensor--shows the approximate location of the leak.

Water utilities also take advantage of IoT technologies by connecting sensors to equipment in pumping stations and treatment plants and then to IoT gateway software. System-on-a Chip IoT gateways regulate data traffic between local mesh networks to the cloud environment. Regulating the data traffic involves managing communication from the sensors and other monitors, controlling traffic with IoT platforms, displaying information on software dashboards, and passing metadata between tiers.

If a sensor detects an equipment fault or possible fault, identification numbers, device addresses, time of acquisition, and operating information transfers from the monitoring and control systems to a gateway. Once the data moves to cloud-based analytic software, algorithms compare the data with known good data and perform a root cause analysis of the fault.  

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