Scientists working with DARPA and Department of Energy backing have cracked the code on a kind of technological milestone, for the first time developing a nano-device capable of powering itself by harvesting energy from vibrations while at the same time transmitting data wirelessly over long distances. That kind of technology could have huge implications for devices ranging from surveillance implements to airborne sensors to implantable medical devices.
Zhong Lin Wang and colleagues explain that advances in electronics have opened the door to developing tiny devices that operate battery-free on minute amounts of electricity that can be harvested from the pulse of a blood vessel, a gentle breeze, or the motions of a person walking. “It is entirely possible to drive the devices by scavenging energy from sources in the environment such as gentle airflow, vibration, sonic wave, solar, chemical, and/or thermal energy,” the scientists explain.
The device consists of a nanogenerator that produces electricity from mechanical vibration/triggering, a capacitor to store the energy, and electronics that include a sensor and a radio transmitter similar to those in Bluetooth mobile phone headsets. Their device transmitted wireless signals that could be detected by an ordinary commercial radio at distances of more than 30 feet.
Nanogenerator is an energy harvesting device converting the external kinetic energy into an electrical energy based on the energy conversion by nano-structured piezoelectric material. Although its definition may include any types of energy harvesting devices with nano-structure converting the various types of the ambient energy (e.g. solar power and thermal energy), it is used in most of times to specifically indicate the kinetic energy harvesting devices utilizing nano-scaled piezoelectric material after its first introduction in 2006.
Although still in the early stage of the development, it has been regarded as a potential breakthrough toward the further miniaturization of the conventional energy harvester, possibly leading the facile integration with the other types of energy harvester converting the different types of energy and the independent operation of mobile electronic devices with the reduced concerns for the energy source, consequently.