New graphene device could revolutionise IoT

11 Jul 2016

Is there anything graphene can’t improve? New research into the wonder material has led to the development of a device that aims to drastically improve many aspects of the internet of things (IoT).

As you have probably read many times on, minute IoT devices that will be capable of transmitting data from cities and farmlands are the future, but getting them to the stage where they are almost self-sufficient is the end-goal.

While significant developments have been made within IoT devices using traditional silicon, limitations crop up soon enough, particularly when it comes to transmitting data over frequency bands.

Future Human

Works at very low voltage

With most devices using the MEMS or MOS standard, the range of frequencies that they can achieve are typically in the lower levels, which also means a lower speed of data transmission.

Now, however, researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPLF) in Switzerland – which recently announced the development of a machine that makes non-stop wine – have announced a new graphene device that could help IoT devices reach unprecedented speeds.

Publishing their work in the journal Nanoletters, the team has revealed that this device is designed to replace tuneable capacitors by allowing it to tune the circuits to different frequencies so that they can operate across a wide range of frequency bands, including high frequencies above 2.1GHz.

Based on a sandwich structure, the device takes advantage of the fact that a two-dimensional gas of electrons in a quantum well can behave like a quantity referred to as quantum capacitance, which allows it to tune the device to multiple frequencies by applying a very low voltage.

“It’s by applying voltage that we can ‘tune’ our capacitors to a given frequency, just like tuning a radio to get different stations,” said Clara Moldovan, the lead author of the study.

Graphene device

The new graphene IoT device. Image via EPLF

Will it replace silicon in IoT?

Given we’re dealing with graphene here – a 2D, atom-thick material – the device measures only 0.05cm in length and width and can be both stiff or flexible in a miniaturised state.

“Our results confirm that graphene could truly revolutionise the future of wireless communications,” Moldovan said.

Putting forward proposed uses for the device, the team has said its focus will be on improving data flow between IoT devices, but it could also drastically improve battery life for future compact devices.

For example, when in a flexible state, the device could be placed within sensors for monitoring important data within the body, or just within clothing.

While this device might suggest the beginning of a shift from silicon devices to graphene, the head of the lab that created the device within EPLF said this isn’t the case.

“Some have claimed that graphene will one day replace silicon technology,” said Adrian Ionescu.

“But, in reality, graphene is most effective in the realm of electronics when it is combined with functional silicon blocks.”

Wireless signal image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic