New battery-free, ultra-low power wireless sensor technology is being developed by UK-based TTP that will add connectivity and intelligence to everyday dumb objects such as medical implants, supermarket labels and engineering components.
TTP believes it is through innovative energy harvesting techniques and low energy sensors that the Internet of Things will become a reality and billions of devices will communicate and interact with each other.
TTP is working on applications that range from sensors embedded in smart orthopaedic implants for remote monitoring, to battery-free sensors for measuring highly-stressed components in F1 engines and active supermarket labels that are always up to date with real-time data.
And the same technology is being used for displaying the balance on Oyster-type pre-pay cards, controlling home energy systems or street lights and intelligent security or postal tags. TTP expects many of these new sensors will connect to smartphones and tablets using ultra-low power Bluetooth technology or Near Field Communications (NFC) for close range transactions.
TTP has combined advanced ultra-low power electronic design with energy harvesting techniques such as making use of radio waves, vibration, heat and light and biological sources. It has also optimised the use of low-power wireless for communications and providing power through human tissue and metal in medical implants. Typically, these applications require the embedded sensing electronics to be fully encapsulated in Titanium and interrogated whilst deep within the body.
In motorsport, the technical challenges are quite different, although as with medical applications the demand for critical sensor data justifies the need for technological advancement. Battery-free sensors can be used to measure real-time parameters deep within mechanical systems such as engines, gearboxes and braking systems that experience extreme temperature and vibration.
Steve Taylor, senior consultant at TTP, said: ‘The technical challenges to deliver ultra-low power electronics and battery-free devices involve understanding the fundamental principles of electromagnetics and radio spectrum, propagation modelling and antenna design along with mechanical packaging, sensor integration and advanced system design. As well as using innovative techniques to optimise the circuit designs we have developed new ultra-low power wireless protocols and a patent-pending technique for transmitting data through thick steel walls.’
‘With predictions that that the Internet of Things (IoT) will connect up to 50 billion devices, powering dumb objects and sensors to give them intelligence and communications is critical,’ said Dr Allan Carmichael, business development manager at TTP. ‘It is simply not feasible or environmentally desirable to use batteries, so harnessing and storing small amounts of energy is the only way to make the IoT work effectively.
‘New battery-free and ultra-low power technologies that complement existing approaches such as NFC, Zigbee and Bluetooth Smart, will open up exciting new opportunities across a wide range of fields from health and smart energy to tracking, active displays and micro payments. The IoT vision is about connected devices improving our lives seamlessly without us knowing – and this will only work if we aren’t worried about changing the batteries,’ said Carmichael.