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How ASIC design is powering the future of IoT in Smart Cities


30th June - Valencia.

Smart cities aim to better integrate, regulate, optimize, and control the city’s impact on communities and the natural environment. Motives and implementations vary but typically focus on improving sustainability, efficiency, reliability, safety, and quality of services in relation to public operations, amenities and assets. It is expected 68% of the global population to live in urban areas by 2050, for many ‘smart’ means the opportunity to unlock the potential for economic growth.

To enable urban efficiencies, many countries are making their cities ‘smarter’ by harnessing data to manage assets, resources and services — ultimately aiming to improve operations. For a smart city, collecting data is vital in understanding how a city can best serve the needs of its citizens.

To enable this to happen (IoT) technology is being used to achieve these goals. Data collected by sensor-rich IoT devices is being analysed in real-time and used to improve many aspects of critical infrastructure. Intelligence provided by smart city technology enables enhanced services capable of anticipating user’s needs, reducing public spending and increasing sustainability.


The widening use of ASIC design in Smart City Sensors and Applications

Also, as the very nature of each IoT becomes application specific, they need to be customised for a very specific purpose. The advanced algorithms and functionality of an ASIC (as the name implies)is becoming the ‘go to ‘ type of semiconductor to enable the optimal performance for a specific application. 

ASIC development provides the ultimate foundation for Smart city technology architecture, which can largely be divided into four layers.

  • Sensing layer -which uses sensors to generate data.
  • Network layer, which consists of the hardware and software resources that enable network connectivity and communication.
  • Data layer receives and stores vast amounts of data and,
  • Service layer interprets this information in an intelligent and usable way.

Digitalisation and advancements in the IoT are driving large-scale adoption of sensor technologies across cities. It allows cities to collect data from citizens, buildings and assets that can be processed to monitor and manage everything from traffic and transportation systems to crime detection. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and high-speed internet networks are being integrated with sensor networks to enhance data collection further.

These silicon chips contain a huge amount of the electronics needed on a single integrated circuit. Whereas some semiconductors are designed for general purpose, with many functions, the ASICs chip performs a repeated function extremely effectively and efficiently. 

They’re vital for artificial intelligence and cloud computing and they’re responsible for powering much of the IoT revolution.  


The custom nature of ASICs

Given the custom nature of ASICs chips for a single product or application, they’re typically reserved for mass produced products with huge production runs. However, by utilizing custom ASIC design in targeted devices on the edge of an IoT network, it can substantially enhance the functionality and offer greater design flexibility.

Using a custom ASIC model approach enables IoT edge products to be delivered as low cost, mid or highly integrated solutions. This is why, ASIC designers across vertical markets like medical devices, industrial and smart utilities, utilize custom ASIC designs to differentiate IoT products for technical and commercial advantage and make them future proof as much as possible. ASICS are a lot more expensive at the design stage than numerous off the shelf ICs or customisation of FPGAs, however ASICS offer low cost and low power solutions when used in mass produced single applications.

They also provide an excellent interface to interchange between analogue signals from sensors to the network layer and data analysis facilitation. Smart cities employ sensors in a wide variety of applications and mixed signal ASIC design allows for performance where it matters for each particular use. 

IoT devices themselves often use custom-built ASICs to reduce physical space on the chip and function under low energy demands. In this way, IoT devices use ASICs to gather data with sensors, push that data into existing algorithmic models run on cloud-based ASICs, and send alerts or other outcomes back to the end user or merely feed the model to better predict future outcomes.

Other advantages include the possibility to integrate as much of the circuitry as possible into a single package. This reduces component count, resulting in higher reliability, a reduction in PCB space and reduced power consumption. Assembly becomes simpler, and the electronics become protected from factors such as vibration which is often experienced in smart city sensor locations.


The rise of AI for IoT in Smart cities

The Internet of Things (IoT) has opened a new dimension to Building Management Systems and Climate Control manufacturers. Control algorithms can now be influenced by operators remotely. Building supervisors can monitor parameters such as temperature, humidity, occupancy and security from anywhere. AI is being used in more and more applications.  AI can be used to monitor patterns and make judgements on anomalies in those patterns. This may be useful for connected BMS’s, which generally use rule-based programming. People do not always behave the same way. Using AI, the actions taken could change and adapt.

Allowing AI to make real-time decisions about building management could be useful if used in the right way and there are manufacturers now doing this. Moving from a rule-based algorithm to AI in a system where the variables include locked doors and open windows may deliver better automation.

When it comes to smart cities, ensuring privacy is something that needs to be of critical importance. Companies such as Ulisse are using IoT AI technology to build a new analytics system designed for retailers, businesses and smart cities to turn spaces intelligent without privacy restrictions. The platform is camera-free and includes self-installing sensors and algorithms to adapt to any situation and provide real-time analytics. Cameras run the risk of invading privacy and require stable lighting. With radar, it increases the overall accuracy of the analytics and reduces the required density of sensors in the physical environment making it less expensive.

In smart cities, this IoT AI technology can be used to realign human experience with a post-pandemic world. ASICs can also be developed for the specific purpose of supporting artificial intelligence in applications such as the development and training of AI algorithms. 

The growth of smart city sensor applications IoT and AI has led to a great demand for complex ASIC design chips and the IoT applications they drive. As a result there is also an acute shortage in the specialist engineers available to make these dreams a reality.  Engineers with the right skills at the right level are becoming scarce. It requires experts in the field such as CIS to not only find the right skills but provide the perfect match to particular requirements. They have been doing exactly this for over 20 Years in the Embedded Systems marketplace. So if you are looking for Engineers to match your next requirement in ASIC design or complex customisation for Smart city applications contact Chloé Azar on chloea@cis-ee.com or 0034 960 038 630. But not just for Smart Cities, right now there’s fierce competition for the best people across all industries, from automotive to medical devices and telecoms.