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The Power of Light

EnOcean is partnering with the distributor Farnell element14 for a worldwide engineering design competition. Out of more than 200 applicants, 15 finalists were chosen. Their challenge now is to develop an innovative monitoring and automation application. All technologies provided to the challengers underpin the term “Internet of Things” (IoT).

The challenge aims to solve common everyday problems, such as remembering whether you've locked the front door, taken out the trash, or shut the oven off. Using energy harvesting wireless sensors, IoT technologies can transmit information to smartphones and tablets, giving the user a real-time update on such statuses.

The challengers were given a kit of several energy harvesting wireless sensors. In addition to a switch module using the electromechanical harvesting principle, the kit includes sensors that harvest light to power measurement and wireless communication.

Light is a great and almost ever present source of energy. Large solar farms are rising from the ground to ensure our energy requirements are met through renewable resources, and solar cells not larger than 13 x 35 mm enable maintenance-free sensor intelligence. These harvesters can even use indoor light to supply electricity for ultra-low-power wireless radio modules. Already at 200 Lux, the solar cells generate an operating voltage of 3 V. With 3.6 hours of charging in daytime, this provides a temperature sensor module enough power to transmit a measured value every 15 minutes in an uninterrupted operation mode, for example.

Using this technology, manufacturers around the world have already developed a broad range of self-powered sensors covering functionalities such as temperature, light, humidity, and presence detection. The next leap in the market is solar-powered multifunction sensors that cover CO2 levels, temperature, and humidity with one device. These sensors, powered by harvesting indoor light, measure and report levels of carbon dioxide, ambient temperature, and relative humidity in an internal environment. This is interesting, for example, for public buildings such as schools. The sensors can control air quality in classrooms to protect the pupils' health and foster a good learning environment. Connected to a gateway, the sensors can even inform the teacher via smartphone when the windows should be opened to freshen the air.

The energy harvesting technologies available today are still at an early evolution stage, waiting to unfold their potentials. Light will underpin them in its role as one of the most popular energy sources. Next-generation products will combine more efficient solar cells with improved performance under low light conditions. The limit of operation is light intensities of about 100 Lux at 5% efficiency today, but next-generation solar cells based on organic material or dye-sensitized technology will operate down to 10 Lux light intensity with more than 10% efficiency.

This will allow self-powered solar-based sensors to be placed in dark areas of buildings or even in dark corners of outdoor structures. Together with longer-range radio connection and further improved energy management, this lays the foundation for light-powered wireless sensors that permanently monitor critical parameters at large structures like bridges to warn against nonconformance and prevent breakdowns.

In the upcoming years, we will observe some revolutionary developments to energize further applications that lead to solutions where batteryless sensors are set to play an increasingly important role in solving everyday problems. I'm really excited and curious to see the applications of the 15 finalists in the element14 engineering competition. If you want to follow the challenge's progress, take a look at the finalists' blogs here.

25 comments on “The Power of Light

  1. fasmicro
    September 6, 2014

    >> In the upcoming years, we will observe some revolutionary developments to energize further applications that lead to solutions where batteryless sensors are set to play an increasingly important role in solving everyday problems.

    I cannot wait myself to experience when we will not have batteries in sensors. I have always imagined that MEMS with some excitations can produce mechanical vibrations that can help power it. However, getting that vibration will require some kinds of energy elements. We will wait to see how they overcome that challenge. Relying on solar while it is good may be sub-optimal as no one wants to be tethered to the sun which is largely unpredictable in most parts of the world.

  2. Davidled
    September 6, 2014

    Smart house could be built by sensor technology which is not requiring battery anymore. Sensor location definitely is more flexible. Size of sensor is also getting small. There is no doubt that more intelligent senor will contribute to industry world. Concern is to use the sensor in the right direction: the number of sensor and sensor selection related to use of sensor optimization.

  3. goafrit2
    September 6, 2014

    @Daej… Smart house could be built by sensor technology which is not requiring battery anymore.

    Can you provide any technical roadmap on how this could be done. I am very curious to know how. I am yet to understand how we can make sensors that do not use batteries myself.

  4. Davidled
    September 6, 2014

    I think that senor might use nanotechnology and some structure vibration of material generating the energy. The electric signal could be produced by this energy. Most likely, this technology might be used for implant device in the medical industry.

  5. fasmicro
    September 9, 2014

    >> I think that senor might use nanotechnology and some structure vibration of material generating the energy.

    I get it. However, the energy from vibration remains very small to drive any useful gadget or tool. It is possible that nanotechnology can scale that.

  6. fasmicro
    September 10, 2014

    I have been reading about smart house recently. Samsung and many companies are also investing in smart home. It will take a while before they focus on energy conservation in these homes. The focus now is to how to get gadgets and systems into homes and use them to drive and support any process.

  7. Vishal Prajapati
    September 13, 2014

    The completely batteryless sensors are not possible right now. But the device quiscent currents are decreasing and energy harvesting efficiency are increasing. This will ultimately lead us to totaly batteryfree sensors that can communicate wirelessly. Now, nenotechnology can play a significant role in manufacturing of energy harvesting elements. We are hoping for positive results from that soon.

  8. Vishal Prajapati
    September 13, 2014

    If you want to know more about batteryfree sensor operation, you can have a look at the blog on the sister site iotworld.com posted few months back.

    The link is here.

    www(dot)iotworld(dot)com/author(dot)asp?section_id=3150&doc_id=562892

  9. goafrit2
    September 13, 2014

    >> Now, nenotechnology can play a significant role in manufacturing of energy harvesting elements

    Unfortunately, nanotechnology has been all promises with nothing to show so far. Whenever any of the promises come up, I always ask people to show me a trend. Sure, there are many promises on nanotech. The problem is that money is not flowing to get these ideas from lab to market. It has to do with the fact that apps and websites seem to offer better returns these days.

  10. goafrit2
    September 13, 2014

    Thanks for the link. I read the post when it was posted. Nevertheless, we are many years away from realizing battery sensors. I expect MEMS to lead that sector provided there are investors that can lead with capital to develop it.

  11. Vishal Prajapati
    September 15, 2014

    Yes, the MEMS have the edge over others. More specifically Piezoelectric Mems. The Peizoelectric material is readily available right now and it is tried and tested material with different applications. So, that seems to be the most promising material to be used in the energy harvesting and making sensors battery free.

  12. Vishal Prajapati
    September 15, 2014

    Yes, I agree. Nenotechnology has shown us lots of promises and I used to read lot of new innovation and achivements being done every week in the news. But not a single commercial application being seen or used right now.

     

    I see there are speciallized courses being offered here in India specialised on Nenotechnology. But I have never seen a student being place in a company working on Nenotechnology. So, promises are there but none of them in mass application right now.

  13. Davidled
    September 15, 2014

    Are you referring to Nanotechnology?  Nanetechnology might be something else. Nanotechnology might be more involved with materials that potentially are capable of sending and receiving a kind of electronic signal. I am curious about what type specialized courses you indicate.  

  14. Vishal Prajapati
    September 16, 2014

    I am talking about nenotechnology involved with material only which are capable of generating energy. You can google to know they are offering courses on material nenotechnology only. I have not been able to upload a URL right now which has been disabled due to security reasons.

  15. Davidled
    September 16, 2014

    I am afraid to say that nenotechnology is something else. You might provide any engineering book including just book title and author related to nenotechnology. Now, I realized that I am really novice for nenotechnology. Or is nanetechnology the same as nanotechnology?

  16. bjcoppa
    September 20, 2014

    It only makes sense for the IoT to take off like wildfire. A united and integrated connectivity of all electronic devices and systems for our daily lives is the wave of the future. Smartphone apps allow for people to control purchasing, home security systems, vehicle systems, power monitoring, fitness and health monitoring all from a single mobile device. TSMC, the largest chip foundry in the world, is taking this to heart in the formation of a new task force to develop chips focused on the IoT- to get ahead of the curve and not be surprised as many chip companies were by the shift from desktops/PCs to mobile computing devices, leading to low sales and mothballed fabs.

  17. bjcoppa
    September 30, 2014

    LED lighting is finally taking off and becoming more common as prices become more competitive. It is the wave of the future and just a matter of time due to effic and 10-20 yr lifetime

  18. bjcoppa
    September 30, 2014

    Nanotech applies to solar as well since many have developed quantum dot and 3D nanorod based cells requiring advanced thin film deposition nanotech. Older more mature tech based on x-Si is still most common though due to econ of scale and $

  19. bjcoppa
    September 30, 2014

    solar is still dependent on subsidies and not all states and utilities are on board. It's a surprise AZ does not have more residential solar amid the 300 plus days of sunshine

  20. Davidled
    October 2, 2014

    Arizona weather has hot all the time. But, initial cost might be high to install solar panel. Each house needs to turn on air condition which requires a lot of electric power in AZ's weather condition. I doubt that the stored energy from solar could have an enough energy power to turn on air conditioner, unless house installed hybrid energy consisting of solar and conventional electric energy or huge solar power system is installed in the house.

  21. ue2014
    October 21, 2014

    The post is really interesting and leave us with many positive thoughts for future. When we consider Solar Power systems, one of the main areas we need to be considerable is the ability to store the power generated through Solar. There would be many situations where it is needed to store the generated power for further usages not only during night time, but in dark and rainy days too. Therefore, it is very important to took at the ways and means to store the generated power for a longer period of time and possibilities of regenerating or rather developing more power through the generated power.

  22. fasmicro
    December 9, 2014

    >> So, that seems to be the most promising material to be used in the energy harvesting and making sensors battery free.

    Why not NEMS – Nano electro mechanical systems. In other words, take the Micro down to order of 1,000. I was expecting that to drive this market. And that is nanotechnology.

  23. fasmicro
    December 9, 2014

    >>  Nanotechnology might be more involved with materials that potentially are capable of sending and receiving a kind of electronic signal. 

    Sure – I do think it has the promise to redesign and make energy efficiency and storage better if we can move some of the works in labs into markets.

  24. fasmicro
    December 9, 2014

    >> TSMC, the largest chip foundry in the world, is taking this to heart in the formation of a new task force to develop chips focused on the IoT-

    The promise of IoT is so obvious that anyone that misses it just want to miss it. There is no denying the convergence of data and cloud with IoT. My concern is that the fragmentation may make it difficult for the traditional companies to lead the sector. Companies like Electric Imp may surprise many in this space.

  25. fasmicro
    December 9, 2014

    >> LED lighting is finally taking off and becoming more common as prices become more competitive. It is the wave of the future and just a matter of time due to effic and 10-20 yr lifetime

    LED may not just take off because of the durability of LED. I see the Apps element as a key element of the opportunity. People may like to program their lights and LED lighting offers something great in that space.

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