A New Future: Battery-Less Sensors For IoT Devices

Several researchers are working on developing maintenance-free battery-less sensors to reduce the overall cost of operation of IoT devices. One such startup, Everactive, has developed battery-less sensors that can last for 20 years.

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As the internet landscape continues to expand, a multitude of devices are now getting linked to the network. No, we are not talking only about the standard devices such as PCs, tablets, or smartphones. In fact, many other smart devices such as washing machines, robotic vacuum cleaners, among others, can connect to the internet and communicate with each other. All these smart devices come under the umbrella of the Internet of Things or IoT. In brief, IoT seeks to expand the power of the internet beyond PCs and smartphones to other objects, processes, and environments.

‘Industrial IoT’ is used in several industries for plenty of applications such as automation, intelligent manufacturing, and operational efficiency. Experts have predicted a massive increase in the number of industrial IoT devices in the coming years. These IoT devices have sensors to collect and share data. However, these sensors have poor battery life and come with restricted power supply. Battery-dependent wireless sensors are just pieces of junk when the battery is drained.

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However, where there are problems, there is scope for innovation. A lot of researchers are working on developing battery-less sensors. A startup called Everactive has also developed industrial sensors that can function 24/7 and that last over 20 years. The interesting part is that the startup has not redesigned the batteries for these sensors, but has removed them altogether.

So how exactly is Everactive powering the sensors? The startup has designed ultra-low-power integrated circuits that harvest energy from indoor lights and vibrations to produce data. These IoT sensors then continuously transfer the generated data to Everactive’s cloud platform, Evercloud. This data then provides consumers and industries with real-time information, insights, and alerts. The clients can make good use of sensors and IoT devices with the non-interrupted information. 

David Wentzloff, Co-Chief Technology Officer, and Assistant Professor, University of Michigan, stated:

It’s all enabled by the ultra-low-power chips that support continuous monitoring Because our source of power is unlimited, we’re not making tradeoffs like keeping radios off or doing something else [limiting] to save battery life.

The sensors can be powered by extremely dim lights (as low as 100 lux), vibrations, and heat differential under 10 degrees Fahrenheit. These sensors are capable of sensing vibrations, pressure, temperatures, and acceleration, among others. 

Battery-free sensors for IoT devices

These sensors are also very cheap when compared to the standard sensors. A plus point is that the battery maintenance can be done away with. For example, Everactive analyzed the cost of deploying 10,000 traditional battery-powered sensors in a year. Assuming that the battery life lasts for three years, the customer will have to replace an average of 3,333 batteries every single year. This means that about nine batteries will have to be replaced in a single day. 

Battery-less Sensors: The Future of IoT?

Despite the hype surrounding IoT, experts believe that the technology still hasn’t taken off completely. This could be attributed to the underlying battery limitations, among other factors. The expenses involved in replacing the batteries at industrial levels is overwhelming. Even in a medium-sized factory, sensors are deployed across thousands of devices. Therefore, battery replacement requires huge logistical and financial dedication. Moreover, there is always an environmental concern surrounding the disposal of these batteries. 

Undeniably, the elimination of batteries can prove to be very advantageous to the budget and the environment. Ultimately investments can be made to deploy more and more maintenance-free battery-less sensors. Moreover, the fact that these sensors can operate round the clock make it more effective than ever. Remember, sensors are integral in creating IoT-based solutions. 

It is only a few years before sensors will be reduced to the size of a postage stamp. At that point, customers will be able to literally stick the sensors on the machine for data generation and communication. Such a level of deployment ease will go a huge way in revolutionizing IoT. Perhaps industries could also use 5G to backhaul data from the battery-less sensors to the cloud. Everactive is already working on this to transmit data seamlessly from Eversensors to Evercloud.  

Talking about the magic of sensors, Wentzloff stated:

[Removing restrictions on sensor installations] starts to give you a sixth sense, if you will, about how your overall operations are running. That’s exciting. Customers would like to wave a magic wand and know exactly what’s going on wherever they’re interested. The ability to deploy tens of thousands of sensors gets you close to that magic wand.

David Wentzloff and the co-founder of Everactive, Benton Calhoun, have been working on these ultra-low-power integrated circuits for over a decade. They did their PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While Benton Calhoun worked on low power digital circuits, Wentzloff studied low power radios. 


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