New personal air pollution sensor harvests its own energy from wireless networks

Low-energy IoT devices could be perpetually powered by the virtually free energy of RF broadcasts, ditching the need for batteries and recharging.

The emerging Internet of Things (IoT) could have a beneficial impact on some aspects of our environment, as smarter devices and connected technology may help automate and optimize our homes, our offices, and our factories. But IoT devices come with their own set of challenges, one of which is the need for cost-effective and easily-deliverable power. For remote devices, this means batteries, which, while we're rapidly moving ahead with better battery technology every day, are still rather expensive and bulky and short-lived. These batteries need to be regularly recharged and/or replaced, requiring additional materials, time, and energy.

But that could be changing in the near future, as some small low-energy IoT devices could be powered by the virtual 'electrosmog' that surrounds us all the time - the radio frequency (RF) transmissions of the wireless and mobile networks that are broadcast around us. A newly announced device from Drayson Technologies, called Freevolt, will essentially harvest 'free volts' from a wide variety of types of RF broadcasts to provide energy for small sensors and other low-energy Internet of Things (LE-IoT) devices, in effect giving them perpetual power, for free.

"The highly efficient Freevolt rectifying antenna and associated circuitry is able to harvest small amounts of power from existing transmission networks, such as Wi-Fi, digital TV and cellular - 2G, 3G, 4G - into usable electricity. Freevolt reuses this unused energy without interfering with the data connectivity and without requiring any increase in transmission power."

While RF energy harvesting isn't new, it's not been commercially viable or available yet, so Freevolt's announcement is a good sign of the future of innovative onboard energy harvesting devices.

"Companies have been researching how to harvest energy from WiFi, cellular and broadcast networks for many years. But it is difficult, because there is only a small amount of energy to harvest and achieving the right level of rectifying efficiency has been the issue – up until now. “With Freevolt , we have created something special. For the first time, we have solved the problem of harvesting usable energy from a small RF signal.” - Lord Drayson, CEO of Drayson Technologies

The first application for the Freevolt technology will be in a sensor, called the CleanSpace™ Tag, which is a personal air pollution data collector that will connect to a user's smartphone and deliver the air quality readings to an accompanying app. The collected data will then be added to that of other users, essentially joining them together into an effective air quality network that could cover much more ground than existing air monitoring systems do.

The CleanSpace network, which is separate from (but designed to use) the Tag, tracks user's physical journeys with the CleanSpace app, and delivers local air pollution information so users can choose the cleanest routes and modes of transportation, while also rewarding those users with "CleanMiles," which can then be converted to perks from the network's participating partners.

Find out more at Freevolt, or register your interest in getting one of the first CleanSpace Tags, which is launching in the UK via a crowdfunding campaign. Backers at the £55 ($83 USD) level will be the first to receive the Tag.

Future applications for this RF harvesting technology could be to power other remote sensors, such as for smart home devices, as well as to provide power for fitness wearables and Beacon devices.

Tags: Electronics | Energy | Gadgets

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