Dialog Semiconductor has announced a new Bluetooth 5.1 system-on-chip (SoC) which it claims can add Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to an application for as little as $0.50, opening up an opportunity in mass-market, disposable, Internet of things (IoT) connected devices.

Its new DA14531 chip, which it also calls SmartBond Tiny, makes it possible to extend wireless connectivity to applications where it would have previously been prohibitive in terms of size, power or cost, especially those within the growing connected medical field. SmartBond Tiny is expected to help facilitate connectivity for inhalers, medicine dispensers, weight scales, thermometers, glucose meters and more.

At half the size of its predecessors, the DA14531 is available in packages as small as 2.0 x 1.7 mm and only requires six external passives, a single clock source and a power supply to make a complete Bluetooth low energy system. For developers, this means it can fit into electronic styluses, shelf labels, beacons or active RFID tags for asset tracking.

It will also be useful for OEMs who want to make it easier for their customers to provision products such as cameras, printers and wireless routers. From a consumer point of view, the chip’s system size and power mean it can also be integrated in remote controls as a replacement for infrared (IR) or for other applications such as toys, keyboards or smart credit and banking cards.

DA14531

The DA14531 SoC from Dialog Semiconductor

The DA14531 is based on a 32-bit Arm Cortex M0+ with integrated memories and a complete set of analog and digital peripherals, delivering a score of 18300 on the latest IoTMark-BLE, the EEMBC benchmark for IoT connectivity. Dialog claimed that score is 35% better than its nearest competitor.

Its architecture and resources allow it to be used as a standalone wireless microcontroller or as an RF data pipe extension for designs with existing microcontrollers.

EE Times spoke to Adrie Van Meijeren, product marketing manager for Dialog Semiconductor, about the rationale for the new device and the market it is opening up. He told us, “Up to now, BLE has not been in the disposable markets. This chip has been in development for two and a half years in response to a request for a super-low power, highly integrated chip for the disposable market.”

As a result, he said they eliminated the external crystals and devices, reduced the radio size and power needs. He added, “We’re roughly half the power consumption of our main competitors.” The transmit current is 3.5mA, 40% lower than competitors, the receive current is 2.2mA, 64% lower than others, and the hibernation current is 240nA, which is 20% lower than others.

Van Meijeren said the prompt for developing the device was for disposable products in pharma applications. Though he wasn’t able to disclose what this was, a typical example might be for monitoring temperature-critical drugs in the supply chain. While it began with the medical market in mind, the time to market is long for this sector, so he said Dialog broadened the target market to other applications. As a result, it’s already in mass production and shipping. We asked which products we’ll see it in, but all he said he could reveal was that it is targeting consumer electronics with a customer in Asia and will be in the market by the end of this year.

In addition to the SoC, Dialog is also adding a module based on the DA14531 chip to make it easy for customers to add the SoC to their product, instead of having to certify their platforms themselves, thereby saving time, development efforts and costs. The company said the module breaks through the $1 target for a BLE module, lowering the threshold for adding this capability to a system and driving a multitude of applications.

The module uses half of the energy of its predecessors, the DA14580 and DA14580-based module, as well as other offerings currently on the market. The DA14531’s integrated DC-DC converter enables a wide operating voltage (1.1 to 3.3V) and can derive power directly from environmentally-friendly, disposable silver oxide, zinc air or printable batteries required for high-volume applications, such as connected injectors, glucose monitors and smart patches.

The low bill-of-materials (BoM) cost provides the capability to add connectivity to any device, even disposable ones, and drive the adoption of BLE beyond what was previously possible. Van Meijeren said, “We’ve already shipped 300 million units in the BLE market. With this new device, we hope to enable the next billion IoT devices.”