Wireless Sensor Networks and Energy Harvesting Coming Together

Energy harvesters now go far beyond being solar, thermal and vibration based into new form factors such as flexible and stretchable energy harvesters (piezo electric ribbons printed onto rubber).

Zero power wireless sensors bring together new low power wireless ICs with energy harvesters (which harvest energy from heat, light or motion, for example) and the appropriate form of energy storage and conditioning.

Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) could involve billions of sensors which are needed on utility assets, buildings, pollution monitors, traffic control systems, in agriculture and much more but adoption has been hindered by conventional primary batteries, which will eventually need replacing and therefore cannot be fitted and forgotten for a long period.

The Wireless Sensor Networks & RTLS conference and exhibition hosted by IDTechEx in Boston on Nov 15-16 will showcase the new energy harvester-powered wireless sensors 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 energy harvesters themselves now go far beyond being solar, thermal and vibration based. There are new form factors such as flexible and stretchable energy harvesters (piezo electric ribbons printed onto rubber) to combining technologies such as solar and piezoelectics onto fibers 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.

Wireless sensors are the priority of most developers of energy harvesters because of the demand and huge market potential, but other vertical sectors are also greatly interested. For example vehicle companies Ford, Volvo, Electric Truck and the National Institute of Aerospace that are exploring using the vibration and heat in the vehicle to improve fuel economy.

The Electric Aircraft Corpor. will exhibit their electra flyer aircraft - the "trike," which harvests energy.

Also 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. Wireless sensors meet the smart grid.

Raghu Das is CEO of IDTechEx.

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