Are wireless sensor networks and energy harvesting coming together?

Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) could involve billions of sensors used in utility assets, buildings, pollution monitors, traffic control systems, and agriculture. To date, adoption has been hindered by conventional primary batteries, which cannot be fitted and forgotten for long periods. However, zero power wireless sensors are now available according to Raghu Das (pictured), CEO of IDTechEx, which bring together new low power wireless ICs with energy harvesters that draw energy from heat, light or motion.

The Wireless Sensor Networks & RTLS conference and exhibition hosted by IDTechEx in Boston, USA on November 15-16 will showcase the energy harvester-powered wireless sensors that are now available. For example, Microstrain will present on wireless sensing systems powered by thermal, solar and vibration means targeted to a wide range of applications, as will EnOcean, who have created a successful and rapidly growing business targeting building automation. EnOcean will discuss ‘Limitless Environment for Developing Wireless and Energy Harvesting Devices for Building Automation’.

The event will cover new developments with low power electronics, including presentations by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Cymbet, Microchip, Linear Technology, Arrow Electronics, Ember, Silicon Labs and others. Recent progress with energy storage solutions will be covered by Sharp, and Infinite Power Solutions among others.

The energy harvesters themselves are no longer simply solar, thermal and vibration-based. There are new form factors which experts will cover at the event – such as flexible and stretchable energy harvesters (piezo-electric ribbons printed onto rubber) or combining technologies such as solar and piezo-electics onto fibres that harvest energy from sun, rain, wind, wave and tide. Indeed, other forms of energy harvesting include wireless power, which can be used to charge mobile devices to electric cars to wireless sensors without plugging anything in. Leggett and Platt, WiTricity and Fulton Innovation will present the latest work in this area.

Wireless sensors are the priority of most developers in energy harvesting because of the huge market potential, but other vertical sectors are also greatly interested. The event includes presentations from Ford, Volvo, Electric Truck and the National Institute of Aerospace, exploring the use of vibration and heat in the vehicle to improve fuel economy. The Electric Aircraft Corporation will exhibit their electra flyer aircraft – the “trike”, which harvests energy.

There is also the need to extend battery life on consumer electronics devices, and the Marketing Store will discuss their need for powering innovative point of sale electronics. Particular emphasis will be on what the customers want. For example, LivingPlanIT will present on their latest work on the PlanIT Valley in Portugal where millions of sensors are being deployed. The keynote presentation is title ‘1 City, 100 Million Sensors’. The sensors are needed to help build, operate, maintain and decommission buildings.

The event, sponsored by Infinite Power Solutions and Mouser, is the meeting place for users, investors, suppliers, developers, system integrators and government representatives.

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