Startup HaiLa Aims Its Ambient IoT Tech at a ‘No Batteries’ IoT Future

August 01, 2023 by Jake Hertz

Emerging from stealth mode, HaiLa believes they can enable a future of IoT nodes without batteries.

When it comes to IoT design, one of the most important aspects of design is battery life. Here, long battery life translates directly into more uptime, less need for maintenance, and greater sustainability out of your IoT device.

In an attempt to unlock longer battery lives, startup HaiLa has been working in stealth mode developing a new solution that they believe could be a game changer in the industry. Now that HaiLa has emerged from stealth mode, the company has been eager to share details about its ambient IoT technology. 

All About Circuits recently had the chance to sit down with Derek Kuhn, CEO of HaiLa, to discuss the company and its unique technology.


What is Passive Backscattering?

The core underlying technology behind HaiLa’s new solution is the concept of passive backscattering. On the highest level, backscattering is a method of communication in which a transmitter device reflects ambient radio waves to communicate with a receiver.

Backscattering is already well-established in the industry, with RFID tags using backscattering as a means of battery-less communication. In the case of RFID, an RFID tag will receive energy from an RFID reader’s transmission and use that same energy to send a reply message.


Backscatter in RFID tags.

Backscatter in RFID tags. Image used courtesy of Nikitin and co-authors


Passive backscattering takes this concept one step further by removing any and all active components from the equation. Whereas active backscattering may include supporting circuitry like power amplifiers, passive backscattering has no active components at all. 

“It is a reflective technology where we are able to actually modulate the reflection, and the modulation of the reflection forms a data path back,” says Kuhn. “You take a simple WiFi set of frames that you see in your home, your office, an industrial compound, the mall, or wherever you listen for those WiFi frames, and you backscatter them or reflect them.”


“There's no power amplifier and no active components in the backscatter. You just do the modulations on the reflection.”


By encoding data into reflected radio waves, passive backscattering opens up the possibilities for truly low-power IoT communication.


HaiLa’s Custom ASIC-based Platform

Recently emerging out of stealth mode, HaiLa has now taken to the industry with some tangible solutions for passive backscattering. The first solution that HaiLa developed was their own custom passive backscattering ASIC.

The chip is described as a 1 Mbps, 2.4 GHz ISM band Wi-Fi backscatter front-end IP. Consisting of a backscatter modulator, power management unit, and a specialized HaiLa core, the system is designed to enable truly low-power Wi-Fi backscatter. HaiLa has a YouTube video that makes it easy to understand how the company's technology uses passive backscatter.


HaiLa’s technology includes wireless communication over existing protocols using backscatter.

HaiLa’s technology includes wireless communication over existing protocols using backscatter. Image used courtesy of HaiLa


Speaking about the HaiLa core, Kuhn says the challenge for them revolves around pushing the envelope of power efficiency. “We're on the path to essentially create an SoC that has an MCU which is as power efficient as it possibly can, but still meet the demands of our constituent customers that require a strong security solution. Because of this, we developed our own custom RISC-V core for our first-generation ASIC.”


Block diagram of the HaiLa chip

Block diagram of the HaiLa chip. Image used courtesy of HaiLa


According to HaiLa, the ASIC operates in the range of 20 pW to 30 pW—a number range that they claim is a full order of magnitude less than the lowest radio SoCs on the market. With that kind of power consumption, the chip is able to achieve “room-level coverage” in any location with existing Wi-Fi infrastructure.

To allow customers to test out their technology, HaiLa also offers a proprietary development kit based on their ASIC. 


Long-Term Implications? 

According to Kuhn, there are two major implications of their technology: battery life and sustainability. Whereas most IoT devices today try to extend battery life through the use of energy harvesters, in reality, this scheme falls short.

Given that energy harvesters produce such small amounts of energy, and radio transmission is relatively power-hungry, some form of battery is still always required by the IoT device. With HaiLa’s extremely low-power radio transmission, they believe they can enable a future where IoT devices genuinely don’t need batteries.


The big picture implications of how ultra low power IoT.

The big picture implications of ultra low power IoT. Image used courtesy of HaiLa


Beyond extended device uptime, this concept has a huge corollary in the world of sustainability, according to Kuhn.


“I read all these analyst reports that claim that IoT sensing continues to go up. You imagine if you could eliminate the need for a battery, you would be able to save hundreds and hundreds of millions of batteries from landfills.”


As a testament to HaiLa’s potential sustainability impact, the company has been able to raise $2.4 million from a sustainability program in Canada.