Measuring Ultra-Low Power in Wireless Sensor Node Applications Using the DMM7510 7-1/2-Digit Graphical Sampling Multimeter

The future of the Internet or the Internet of Things (IoT) is an interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded devices often referred as IoT smart devices and sensors. A large number of sensor nodes each capable of sensing and wireless communication installed in an area of interest makes a wireless sensor network. Billions of smart sensors push data to the IoT through diverse applications, including home security systems; lighting and HVAC control; utility monitoring; industrial control and automation; bridge, railway, traffic light monitoring; and various other infrastructure and environmental uses. Despite the wide difference in applications, these sensor nodes share architecture similar to wireless IoT smart devices, such as those used in the medical, health, and fitness domains.

One of the most common challenges in all sensor node design is power management. Wireless sensor nodes are often placed in hard-to-reach locations where sourcing from mains power is either inconvenient or impossible. Designers need to closely examine the power consumption associated with different operational states of the microcontroller (MCU) and the transceiver of the wireless sensor node. In a typical sensor node application, a node might sit idle for long periods of time between peak periods of activity for sensor data acquisition and wireless transmission. In other words, the power profile consists of active peaks, that are represented by tens of milliamps at maximum transmit or receive power, and long idle periods, that are characterized by quiescent current as low as tens of nanoamps.

Power = I × V

Energy = I × V × Time

Until recently, no single instrument offered the combination of low current measurement range, resolution, and speed capability necessary for these applications. The Keithley Model DMM7510 7½-Digit Graphical Sampling Multimeter will fulfill this need. The Model DMM7510 has an 18-bit sampling A-to-D converter dedicated for digitizing current and voltage at 1Megasample per second. The digitizing functions cover the same measurement ranges as the DMM’s traditional DC voltage and current functions. In other words, the instrument offers exceptional current measurement capability from 100pA to 10A with a 100kHz analog bandwidth that is suitable for both deep sleep as well as active current measurements. Although voltage is typically regulated in these applications, the Model DMM7510 is also capable of digitizing voltage from 1µV to 1000V and has a higher analog bandwidth of 600kHz. Combining the advanced waveform triggering mechanism, such as edge triggering, pulse triggering, and window triggering, you can easily capture, view, and interact with these dynamic signals on the Model DMM7510’s multi-touch display.

This application note provides an overview on how to characterize the ultra-low power consumption of a typical wireless sensor node application on the front panel of the Keithley Model DMM7510.

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