A lightning sensor IC, claimed as a “world first” has been developed by austriamicrosystems.  The company’s AS3935 Franklin Lightning Sensor, with embedded intelligent algorithm takes its name from American innovator, Benjamin Franklin. 

The sensor is intended as a warning device to alert users of approaching electrical storms. In effect this creates a window of opportunity for those in the immediate vicinity, to evacuate the area or take shelter.

The working dynamics of the sensor include a sensitive RF receiver which cleverly detects the electrical emissions from lightning activity. A proprietary algorithm then converts the RF signal into an estimation of the distance of the storm.

The algorithm utilises meteorological survey data to produce an estimated distance-to-storm calculation from 40km down to 1km. cleverly, it is intuitive enough to decipher disturbances from man-made signals such as motors and microwave ovens and not respond to this.

In protection against some of the most devastating weather conditions in recent times,  such portable lightning sensors are becoming an increasingly important factor in preventing loss of life and in securing equipment and property.

Typically, the average human ear can pick-up on thunder as far away as 10km, but this can often be too late, leaving not enough time to properly ‘batten down the hatches’ and secure the area in the path of a fast-moving, highly-active electrical storm.

The national weather service agencies today have sophisticated, large pole-mounted fixed sensors but portable lightning sensing equipment is not widely used by consumers or businesses today because they are generally cumbersome, inaccurate and prone to false alerts from man-made signals.

But with advancing sensing systems integrating this type of IC, technology solution providers are now responding to fill the market need with a wide range of portable devices. 

As the sensing system features multiple low-power modes, a listening mode current consumption of 60µA, all housed in a small 4mm by 4mm 16-pin MLPQ package, it can easily be integrated  into portable or outdoor devices.

This ideal for many applications including biking, hiking, marine, golfing, sporting events (football, soccer, baseball, etc.), and also in-building equipment such as uninterupted power supplies (UPS), power conditioners, telecom equipment, intelligent networks and smart grids needing early detection for use in surge damage prevention.