5 ways to power the Internet of things

kstateperegrine

The Internet of Things could have a mind-boggling 24 billion devices connected by 2020 and that means there will be more than three times the amount of connected devices as people on the planet by that time. So, how will the world power all of these gadgets and machine-driven devices? The answer, beyond plugging all of those devices into the grid, will include farming tiny slices of power when available, from sources like the sun, vibrations, mechanical energy, heat and more.

Here’s five ways the Internet of things will be powered:

The sun: During the day, when the sun shines down, it’s a relatively passive energy source that largely remains untapped. A couple years ago Peregrine Semiconductor started working with Kansas State University researchers on an energy-harvesting radio that gains power from a board made of solar cells taken from low-end calculators. The rest of the setup (see photo) includes a low-power integrated chip — originally developed for a NASA Mars project — to store the data, and a radio to transmit the data every five seconds. Another more recent innovation is researchers developing organic and polymer-based solar cells that are thinner than spider silk that MIT Tech Review says “can be bent and crumpled and still produce power.”

Flipping a light switch: GreenPeak is a company that sells battery-free wireless chips and network hardware that can create wireless sensor networks for industrial and commercial buildings that don’t use batteries, but harvest energy when it’s available. GreenPeak has been developing tech for “Self Powered Switches,” which are essentially a light that can run off of the power generated by switching a light switch on and off. A company called EnOcean is developing this sensor tech, too.

Human motion: People powered motion sparks the imagination of jogging powering iPods and footsteps providing juice for iPhone. Remember this energy collecting knee brace?

Vibration: UK firm Perpetuum makes a device that capture vibrations and converts them into energy. The last time I had talked to the company it was selling its products to industrial companies for between $750 and $1,000 for various volumes of 500 to 1000 nodes. Widely accepted standards could bring that cost down, and developers could incorporate the technology more into the residential environment.

Changes in temperature: As MIT Tech Review writes: “devices could be powered just by differences in temperature between the body (or another warm object) and the surrounding air, eliminating or reducing the need for a battery.”

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