European researchers have developed advanced energy harvesting technology that allows wireless sensor networks to power themselves from the sun, heat or vibrations. The innovation is a key enabler for smart cities, environmental and pollution monitoring, and effective disaster management, among many other applications.
From monitoring weather and pollution to empowering ‘smart cities’ of the future, wireless sensor networks promise to make our lives more comfortable, safer and more productive. But while many of the challenges to deploying networks of tiny sensor devices have been addressed, one key issue remains: how to power them.
Like any electronic device, sensors need energy to operate. Until now this has largely been solved by hooking them up to the grid or using batteries, but both approaches have considerable drawbacks.
Grid-connected sensors need cables, limiting where they can be used, and contribute to electricity consumption and CO2 emissions, while battery-powered ones only last as long as their battery life. But what if sensors could harness energy directly from their environment – from the sun, from ambient heat, from radio waves or vibrations?
The result would be sensors and sensor networks that can be set up anywhere with ease and in theory would operate perpetually with little or no maintenance or environmental impact. And that is precisely what a team of EU-funded researchers are achieving in the SWAP ('Symbiotic Wireless Autonomous Powered system') project.
Supported by almost EUR 1 million in research funding from the European Commission, four companies and research institutes from Italy and Spain have combined their skills and expertise to develop the next generation of innovative, autonomously powered wireless sensors.