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Analog research is alive and well at NMSU, helps local business

You may have thought that analog was a thing of the past, but in reality, analog technology helps make the digital technology of today more power efficient. Researchers at New Mexico State University are working on a project for a local business that uses analog technology to save rechargeable batteries from being damaged when their voltage becomes too low.



Paul Furth, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NMSU, is using his analog research to benefit local industry. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Paul Furth, NMSU associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his graduate students have spent four months working on a project for a local business that designs battery packs as primary power sources for such things as portable lighting systems.

"These battery systems need to be periodically recharged," Furth said. "If a battery voltage gets below a certain value, it starts becoming damaging for the battery to continue to use it. For example, if a 12-volt car battery gets down to 6-volts, I am actually damaging the battery by continuing to use it."

The device that Furth and his graduate students designed is called a low-voltage battery disconnect device. It senses when the input voltage on a battery, such as a car battery, is low and it disconnects the battery from the load, that is, the system you're trying to turn on with the battery, via an electronic switch. When the battery voltage is normal, this electronic switch stays on and the load functions properly.

The customer wanted the device to be programmable, as their battery systems sometimes go up to 96 volts. The user can program the voltage at which he or she wants the system to shut down, using a knob on the side of the device.

The customer also wanted a light-emitting diode (LED) to indicate that the low-voltage battery disconnect device is functioning.

Furth had students handle the main roles in the project, advising them and helping them as necessary along the way.

"One of the things that excites me about this relatively small project is that we're interacting with local industry," Furth said. "Currently, in the Las Cruces and El Paso areas, no one designs their own integrated circuits or computer chips. They're very costly to design, and normally, you only design your own integrated circuit if you want to make a million of them. But, what happens if you only want to make one, or ten, or 100? In that case, you are better off designing a printed circuit board and populating it with integrated circuits designed by other companies, such as Texas Instruments. That's what we did on the programmable low-voltage battery disconnect device."

Furth hopes to engage with more local companies who require analog circuits in their products to help them be more successful, which could, in turn, economically benefit this region.

"That's one reason we're excited about this project. It's one for one company, but I would look for other companies to work with. In fact, I have contacted other companies and told them, 'we are here and we're ready to serve you,' and, ultimately we're hoping that we can contribute to a moneymaking product."

"Funding for the low-voltage battery disconnect project was provided by the NMSU Engineering New Mexico Resource Network as a means of advancing the economic competitiveness of New Mexico based businesses," said Patricia Sullivan, assistant dean of the College of Engineering. "Dr. Furth is one of several faculty in the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NMSU leading an effort to meet a growing demand for expertise in analog circuit design."