Energy to Power the #IoT: it’s really just a matter of child’s play

Posted on 12th June 2015 in energy, environmental, Internet of Things, M2M, mobile, sensors, wearables

Saving the Earth from global warming is going to require reducing our use of fossil fuels, yet we keep coming up with new technologies, such as the Internet of Things, that will require even more energy. So how do we reconcile the two needs?

In part, through harvesting ambient energy, and, most cleverly, kinetic energy generated in the process of doing something else, from moving liquids through pipelines, wheels as vehicles move, or even as we humans move about in our daily lives.

As you’ll see from the examples below, there’s enough projects in the field that I’m confident a growing number of sensor networks will be powered through ambient energy in the future. Equally important, in the not-too-distant future we’ll laugh that we once plugged in our smartphone and watches to charge them, rather than harvesting the energy we generate every day simply by moving around.

I saw an incredible example at the recent Re-Work IoT Summit in Boston, courtesy of Jessica O. Matthews of Uncharted Play. By my calculations, Matthews’ own energy output would allow shutting down 2.3 nukes: before her session began, I saw this striking woman on the stage — Matthews –skipping rope.

In high heels!

Then the fun began. Or should I say, the energy production.

Matthews, an MIT grad, works largely in Africa, creating very clever playthings that — ta da! — harvest energy, such as the very cool Soccket ball shown in the video above (you can see here how it’s made).  It has a battery built in that’s charged by the large amount of kinetic energy created by kids on the playground who are just having fun.  At night, they take the ball home and, voila, plug a socket into the side of the ball and they have precious light to read by. How incredibly cool is that?

The Pulse jump rope powers two lights

Matthews’ jump rope (“The Pulse”)? The kinetic energy from that  powers TWO lights!

But there’s a lot of other neat stuff going on in terms of capturing kinetic energy that could also power IoT devices:

  • Texas Instruments has harvested energy to run sensors from changes in temperature, vibrations, wind and light.  I knew about harvesting the energy from pipeline vibrations, but hadn’t thought about getting it from the temperature differential between the interior of pipes carrying hot water and the outside air. TI says that yields a paltry 300-400 millivolts, but they’ve figured out how a DC-to-DC switching converter can increase it to 3-5 volts — enough to charge a battery.
  • TI is also researching how kinetic energy could charge your phone:”To power wearables, the company has demonstrated drawing energy from the human body by using harvesters the size of wristwatch straps.. It has worked with vibration collectors, for instance, about the same size as a key.”It’s possible that a smartwatch could use two harvested power sources, light and heat, from the body. These sources may not gather enough power to keep a smartwatch continuously operating without action by the user to charge it, but it may give the user’s device a lot more battery life.”
  • Perhaps most dramatically of all, as I reported before, there’s some incredible research on ambient energy underway at the University of Washington, where they use “ambient backscatter,” which: ‘…leverag[es] existing TV and cellular transmissions, rather than generating their own radio waves. This novel technique enables ubiquitous communication where devices can communicate among themselves at unprecedented scales and in locations that were previously inaccessible.’”

    PoWiFi, harvesting ambient energy

    Now, a member of that team,Vamsi Talla, has harvested energy from ambient wi-fi,  “PoWiFi,” as it’s called, to power a temperature sensor and to let a surveillance camera take a picture every 35 minutes (given how pervasive surveillance cameras are today, that could really be a godsend — or a nightmare, depending on your perspective). “For the experiment, hot-spots and routers were modified to broadcast noise when not being used for data transmission. This is because Wi-Fi signals are broadcast in bursts across different frequencies which makes the energy too intermittent to be useful.”  (TY 2 Jackie Bassett of  SealedSpeed for this one).

Bottom line: forget those charging pads that are starting to crop up. In the future, you’ll be powering your phone, and the very devices that sensors are monitoring will be powering them. A win for the IoT — and the environment!

PS: jury’s still out on whether we’ll all have to register with FERC as utilities….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

AlphaOmega Captcha Classica  –  Enter Security Code
     
 

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>