Without sensors, there would be no Internet of Things (IoT). They measure and record temperature, brightness, movement and many other parameters and transfer the data to the smart control devices. Sensors however need power. Although their power consumption is generally very low, they cannot work without it. Making sure that battery-operated sensors keep running for many years without any maintenance is quite a difficult task. This article describes how the service life of batteries can be significantly extended.
With the arrival of Industry 4.0, cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and cloud computing have found their way into modern factories. Operating as integrated communication networks, cyber-physical systems take decisions and act, while communicating in real-time with other systems as well as with humans. One of the main reasons for the rapid technological progress over the last few years is the drop in price of sensors of all types. Only ten years ago, sensor technology was the preserve of highly specialised applications. Today, sensors are a mass product. This development has made it possible to integrate more and more devices into networks where they combine, process and exchange ever larger volumes of data. However, every single sensor in such a network must be supplied with power – be it through a central power supply, battery or energy harvesting devices.
Many IoT and Industry 4.0 applications run with 3V coin batteries. Such batteries need however to be changed quite frequently. A fully charged CR2032 coin battery supplies approximately 3.2V. After only a few operating hours, the voltage drops however to below 3V, which might not be sufficient for certain wireless modules (WLAN, Bluetooth, LoRaWAN, etc.). As a result, transmission can become unreliable or the signaling range might suddenly be limited. Global adoption of the IoT, may be drastically hindered by this problem.
A Solution May Be At Hand
Within the last month, a small company based out of Norfolk, VA has announced a discovery which may drastically address the limitations of the IoT with regards to the need to change batteries ever.
A tiny device – just a bit bigger than a postage stamp – to replace low-current batteries was developed by Face International Corp. in Norfolk. And it never dies. Evercell is the first of its kind, according to Face and others who have studied the device. It’s nontoxic and uses no fuel or moving parts. The key to the device’s operation: harvesting thermal temperature by separating hot and cold particles of matter in the device. All this is done without violating the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.
US research centre Bridg has teamed up with a private company, Face International, to produce a battery-less source of power for IoT sensors – although its description sounds similar to a perpetual motion machine, which has been deemed to be impossible.
The device, called Evercell, “employs a unique design and advanced materials to harvest thermal energy in any environment where the ambient temperature is above absolute zero – reliably generating the microwatts of electrical power needed to run wireless IoT sensors without the need for batteries,” according to a Bridg press release.
The research firm says it expects its first generation of the postage stamp sized Evercells to come in three versions, each generating 1.2V and, respectively, 4.32 microwatts, 400 nanowatts and 800 nanowatts of continuous power.
These are tiny amounts of power, but the output could be increased by using multiple devices. According to Bridg, an Evercell demonstration device has been operating continuously for 16 months with undiminished performance, producing enough electrical output to power a typical wireless sensor.
Projections for the IoT
Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2017, up 31 percent from 2016, and will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. Total spending on endpoints and services will reach almost $2 trillion in 2017.
Regionally, Greater China, North America and Western Europe are driving the use of connected things and the three regions together will represent 67 percent of the overall (IoT) installed base in 2017.
Consumer Applications to Represent 63 Percent of Total IoT Applications in 2017
The consumer segment is the largest user of connected things with 5.2 billion units in 2017, which represents 63 percent of the overall number of applications in use (see Table 1). . "Aside from automotive systems, the applications that will be most in use by consumers will be smart TVs and digital set-top boxes, while smart electric meters and commercial security cameras will be most in use by businesses," said , research director at Gartner.
With such explosive projections of growth, the integration of Evercell to IoT sensors will rapidly increase the potential growth of the IoT near term and overall.
It seems that this invention is a discrete step up from current technologies but the Face Companies is also offering semi-public shares for purchase through ShareBid.