Digital “Moore’s Law” Radio: The Enabling Technology For “Made For Apple” Hearing Aids

Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore from his 1965 Electronics Magazine article, posits that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years. This has mostly held true for the better part of the last five decades (though advances seem to be coming faster) for computers, but other technologies progress at a much slower rate. The specific kind of technology we’re talking about today is Bluetooth and WiFi radio receiver technology that will make “Made for Apple” Bluetooth 4.0-compatible hearing aids and cochlear implants a reality.

The main problem with improving radio technology is that radio is an analog system, rather than a digital one; and because of that, it’s power hungry. While scientists have begun to hit some physical limits in what can be done on a silicon chip, digital technology is easier to improve and easier to shrink — Try shrinking analog technology too far, and it begins to malfunction. Also, analog systems are also not as power efficient as digital systems, which is crucial in hearing aids:

Slide from Intel

Slide from Intel touting the benefits of digital radio

Intel claims the chip will be cheap to manufacture, which means it should start appearing as part of mobile devices in the not-to-distant future. What this means to consumers is improved battery life and faster wireless communication. By moving Wi-Fi to digital (or Wi-Gig, as Intel is calling it), using a mobile device will consume less power and increase bandwidth to, according to the company, over 5 gigabits per second. For lower bandwidth Bluetooth 4.0 audio, this means much lower power consumption than the analog systems in use now.

At the Intel Developer’s Forum 2012, their Justin Ratner showed off the radio working in a reference module, transferring high definition video from an Ultrabook to an external monitor. Impressively, Ratner brought a wafer of dual-core Atom chips, each one with a Moore’s Law Radio integrated into it:

Wafer of dual-core Atom processors, each one containing a Moore's Law digital radio

Intel’s Justin Rather showing off a wafer of dual-core Atom processors,
each one containing a Moore’s Law digital radio, at IDF2012

Here is the video from Ratner’s IDF2012 keynote address, demonstrating the Moore’s Law Radio (sorry, it’s not captioned):

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About the author

Dan Schwartz

Electrical Engineer, via Georgia Tech

2 Comments

  1. Richard Einhorn
    October 1, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Dan, as I’m sure you’re aware, one main technical issue is latency. Any sense of what it will be? And when this tech will be available for inclusion in products?


    • Dan Schwartz
      October 1, 2012 at 11:49 am

      Richard, that’s an open question: It depends on how much processing is being done to the RF signal beyond digital demodulation. This technology is very new; and noteworthy was that the IDF 2012 demo used 802.11 WiFi and not 802.15 Bluetooth.

      In any case, latency is not quite that much of an issue with most ALD use, especially as a replacement for FM in the classroom: Sound travels about 12″ every millisecond, so with the teacher at 12 feet away from the student, it takes about 15 mSec for the sound to arrive at the student’s ears. If the receiver has a 12 mSec electrical propagation delay, the audio from the radio will arrive at the student’s ears at the same as the acoustic signal.


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