Through the day with 1000 chips

  • © CANVA

We don't see them, but they are omnipresent. It is impossible to imagine our high-performance, networked devices without them, making safe navigation through road traffic, smartphones, smart homes and much more possible in the first place.

But microchips can also be found in less complex devices. Stefan Schubert, a developer of integrated circuits, took a look at where exactly they are, and the results are astonishing. In his normal day, there are already over 1000 microchips.


05:00 a.m.

Two hours before I wake up, my heat pump has come on. It is controlled by an atomic clock. Several hundreds of chips are built into this atomic clock - which, by the way, is located in Braunschweig - at least so that it can always send the absolutely exact time to various receivers.

Two chips, in the outside sensor of my heat pump measure the outside temperature at the house for the correct heating curve. 100 different chips are installed in the heat pump itself. These include the central control unit and the individual controls for the solar module and water heating, as well as the chips in the two circulation pumps.

Five chips in each of the smoke detectors, have done their monitoring duty in my house.


07:00 a.m.

It is one chip that wakes me up in the morning. It is in my alarm clock. It too receives the signal from the atomic clock.


07:10 Uhr

You can't do without light at this time of day in winter. One chip in the LED lighting provides a dimmed feel-good light. Another chip is in the power supply for the LEDs.I already have 30 chips on my arm when I put on my smartwatch, so that the first step of the day is already counted, I see incoming e-mails and messages immediately, and - of course - I can also read the time.


07:30 a.m.

Two chips are in my electric toothbrush. 200 chips in the TV, which presents me with news from breakfast TV. Hundreds of chips on the transmitter side in the studio and 6 chips on the transmission line, in the Astra satellite - chips, LNB receiver on the SAT dish.


09:00 a.m.

My home office begins.  50 chips run my laptop with monitor here. One chip is in my mouse.
Another chip in the keyboard.

About 100 chips in a gray junction box on the side of the road ensure that I am connected to the Internet. Then it goes via routers and switches into unknown depths of the Internet, all the way to our company - for the entire workday. Hundreds of chips are involved in this signal path.


12:00 p.m.

Five chips in my microwave help heat up the leftovers from the weekend's dinner.

Outside, it's reasonably bright - for winter conditions. The photovoltaic system on the roof is currently generating just under 1 kilowatt per hour. About 30 chips are installed in the inverter, in addition to the power electronics, which also use semiconductors.

I decide to recharge the e-car in an environmentally friendly way. It is already connected to the wallbox.
The wallbox contains about 15 chips plus power electronics. My smartphone helps with charging again. Software connects the smartphone via the Internet to a server farm - somewhere. From there, it goes via LTE - countless chips in the signal chain, to the car in front of the door. I click on "Start charging" and the current flows from the solar cells into the car batteries. These have a complex charging control system consisting of - chips.


03:00 p.m.

I'm on my way to an out-of-office appointment. I decide to preheat the car via my smartphone and corresponding infrastructure. Along the way, countless chips do their job again.

I develop integrated circuits for a living. Over my home office days, I had to deal with six different chips today that are in different stages of development in our team. After a last video call with my colleagues, I leave the house.

One chip in the remote control - and I open the car from the door. The interior is pleasantly warm when I drive off.

One chip also assists in opening the sliding gate by remote control before I leave the property. About ten chips are installed in the gate column.

In the car, other chips are now doing their work than during the charging process. The display informs about the most important functions, the navigation system shows the way - my GPS connection with 5 satellites is displayed. The car is permanently connected via LTE to an emergency service, which can be reached at the push of a button if necessary.
Hundreds of chips in the signal chain make this possible.

The DC voltage from the batteries must be converted to AC, varying in frequency.
Various chips in the signal chain control this when the "gas" pedal is stepped on. A tiny change in angle on the "gas" pedal (sensor chip) already has a major impact on the acceleration of the 2-ton vehicle.

Other chips control the LED headlights. Chip-coupled sensors enable the reaction to oncoming vehicles by partially deactivating/activating the front headlights. When the "gas" pedal is released, the braking action of the engine kicks in, which now becomes a generator where the negative acceleration energy of the vehicle mass recharges the batteries. Many dozens of chips are involved in this. At the same time, the 2 LED brake lights light up even without the brake pedal being pressed. In total, there are up to 1,300 chips in my vehicle alone.


05:00 p.m.

I have an appointment with the family doctor. The nurse at the reception desk uses a reader to read my patient data from the health insurance card. There is one chip in the card. There are already five chips in the reader. A digital scale measures my body weight; one chip is also integrated here. Later, when I'm standing in the pharmacy and pay with my EC card - one chip - here, too, five chips in the reader ensure a smooth transfer between the card and the device or payment service provider.


07:00 p.m.

Back home, I use the kettle - one chip - to make myself a cup of tea. In the meantime, the thermostats in the apartment have also switched the heating in the living room to the heating circuit and have long since switched off the one in the study. Five chips are in each wall thermostat for this.

Since it is dark outside, the shutters have been lowered automatically with the help of timers on the wall. Each clock contains four chips.


09:30 Uhr

Finally, I'm lying on the sofa. It's time for some relaxation - time for me. I have my ear buds in my ears, listening to music from my Fritz box in its function as a NAS server.
40 chips help to transfer data from the USB stick of the Fritz Box to my smart phone via WLAN. 50 chips are in this one. Currently, it decodes the data stream and sends it digitally to a Bluetooth transceiver, which is also in the smart phone. This sends the data stream to the Ear Buds.

20 chips are installed in these Ear Buds. They convert the data stream into an analog signal and amplify it until vibrations are generated that my ear can process.

More than 100 chips of different manufacturers, types and technologies are needed to get the music from the USB stick in the Fritz Box to my ear. Hundreds of chips are also needed by the creators of the music - lined up in signal processing chains - to create, process, produce and distribute the music.


10:30 p.m.

As I lie in bed, I read a little more on the "Tolino". There are about ten chips in this one. The digital book comes from the online library. As I put it aside, I ask myself how many semiconductor chips have accompanied me throughout the day ... it was probably considerably more than 1,000, and I neither did the laundry in an energy-saving way because it was pre-programmed, nor did I have the house monitored smartly, nor did I have the robot vacuum cleaner in operation.

If I were to think about this again in 10 years, billions of IoT devices - sensors in the Internet of Things - would be networked together by then. At least one edge AI chip will be working in every node. This is a chip with the ability to analyze sensor data at the sensor itself via algorithms and communicate the results. In this way, information is already extracted from large volumes of data at the point of extraction by artificial intelligence and does not burden the world's data centers, which continue to grow anyway.

A thought that accompanies me as I finally fall gently asleep....

Yours, Stefan Schubert

This article was first published as part of our NEXT magazine "In the spotlight: Microelectronics".

To the complete edition of the magazine

Related articles:

Germany‘s microelectronics landscape - Europe‘s semiconductor heart beats here

European Chips Act: Good, but good enough?

Saxony's chip industry strengthens its supply chains