Electronic Noise Is Drowning Out the Internet of Things

Our increasingly connected world needs better protection against RF noise pollution

10 min read
Electronic Noise Is Drowning Out the Internet of Things
Illustration: Lou Brooks

When one of us (Roberson) used to live in Wheaton, Ill., his car’s FM radio would blare static every time he drove near a pole-mounted electrical transformer. Now, when he’s near a particular intersection in Chicago and an elevated train passes by, his mobile phone call gets dropped. The same thing happened to him in a rapid transit station in Washington, D.C., during a conference call with the other two authors of this article. One of them (Matheson) has had to train himself to wait until the commercials begin before turning on his electric toothbrush, because it always breaks up the picture and sound of the TV set in his bedroom.

Radio-frequency noise pollution is everywhere. You can’t see, hear, taste, or smell this noise, of course. Nor can you summon it and study it at your leisure, because it comes and goes along with the movements of its sources or its victims. Start with the fact that any significant digital appliance has a high-speed clock and a digital bus, and both leak radiation profusely. Electric motors and generators generate RF noise with every small spark that jumps between their brushes and spinning commutators. Automobile engines sputter when spark plugs fire. Computers snap and pop during the sharp transitions between ones and zeroes. The high-voltage ballasts of neon signs and fluorescent lights blare a broad mix of frequencies. Industrial machinery, elevators, welders, relays, switching power supplies, even light dimmer switches add to the din. (Of course, natural sources of noise abound as well, including lightning and solar flares, but we will not deal with those problems here.)

Keep reading... Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Video Friday: Drone in a Cage

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

3 min read
A drone inside of a protective geometric cage flies through a dark rain

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

ICRA 2022: 23 May–27 May 2022, PHILADELPHIA
IEEE ARSO 2022: 28 May–30 May 2022, LONG BEACH, CALIF.
RSS 2022: 21 June–1 July 2022, NEW YORK CITY
ERF 2022: 28 June–30 June 2022, ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
RoboCup 2022: 11 July–17 July 2022, BANGKOK
IEEE CASE 2022: 20 August–24 August 2022, MEXICO CITY
CLAWAR 2022: 12 September–14 September 2022, AZORES, PORTUGAL

Enjoy today’s videos!

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Remembering 1982 IEEE President Robert Larson

He was a supporter of several IEEE programs including Smart Village

3 min read
A photo of two men in suits.  One behind the other.

Robert Larson [left] with IEEE Life Fellow Eric Herz, who served as IEEE general manager and executive director.

IEEE History Center

Robert E. Larson, 1982 IEEE president, died on 10 March at the age of 83.

An active volunteer who held many high-level positions throughout the organization, Larson was the 1975–1976 president of the IEEE Control Systems Society and also served as IEEE Foundation president.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Modern System Level Design for Aerospace & Defense

Join this webinar series to learn the most important aspects of modern system-level design for RF and microwave applications in aerospace and defense

1 min read
Keysight
Keysight

More than ever, aerospace and defense companies must lower costs, accelerate their R&D, and reduce risk, all while simultaneously maintaining a high level of mission readiness. Register for this free webinar now!

Keysight is addressing these design challenges for RF and microwave applications, particularly for aerospace and defense applications.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less