Pedro Toledo, a PhD student at the Department of Electronics and Telecommunications at the Politecnico di Torino, together with professor Paolo Crovetti , designed the lowest-power operational amplifier ever built. The project also involved collaboration with teams guided by professor Sergio Bambi at the Universidade Federal de Rio Grande do Sul and professor Massimo Alioto, with his GreenIC group at the National University of Singapore.
Researcher Pedro Toledo said: 'This activity has involved researchers from three continents and has led to a significant advance in the state-of-the-art of amplifiers. The proposed digital amplifier not only breaks records for power consumption and area, but also significantly reduces design time. This is of great interest to the semiconductor industry where time is money".
The electronic system created is a component that forms part of integrated circuits and its primary function is to amplify the input signals from the sensors of the device of which it is part or to which it is connected. The results of Toledo's work represent a real revolution in terms of size and consumption in this field: its operation requires only 500 picoWatts, 30 times less than the best circuits currently on the market, with a silicon surface area of less than 1500 square microns, 20 times less than the best existing amplifiers. The results obtained by the Politecnico di Torino have been published in the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Letters journal and will be presented in early December at the ISICAS2021 conference in Singapore.
In recent years, analogue circuits such as amplifiers have hardly benefited from the recent technological development of semiconductors, which has helped to improve the performance and reduce both the energy consumption and the size of digital circuits. However, analogue amplifiers are indispensable for the operation of electronic systems, allowing a wide range of signals from the outside world to be converted to digital. The product of Pedro Toledo's work and that of all the teams supporting him therefore represents a major breakthrough in overcoming many of the obstacles that still exist in the development of IoT technologies.
A note issued by the University of Turin says: "It is the size of a human cell and consumes so little that it can operate without batteries, powered only by a tiny solar cell. This result opens the way to new applications, for example in Internet of Things (IoT) systems that are energy-autonomous, i.e. able to draw the energy needed to function directly from the surrounding environment, without the need for batteries or connections to the electricity network".
Professor Crovetti added: "The amplifier developed by Pedro Toledo manages to reduce power consumption and size through the application of an innovative technique devised by our group in recent years, which involves translating the operation of analogue circuits such as amplifiers into digital form, so as to take full advantage of recent developments in semiconductor technology".
Applications in biotech and medtechwill also be possible, for example to create functional devices that can be implanted in the human body, which will be the size of a cell and will be able to function as a continuous monitor of vital functions, clinical and chemical-physical parameters to be transmitted wirelessly to the outside world in real time.