In a few short years, trillions of wireless sensors — embedded in everything from buildings to vehicles to household appliances to the bloodstream, up from 10 billion shipped annually today — will convey data of every type, over the internet, to interested parties of every kind.
Technology conceived at the University of Vermont could bring the sensor-driven IoT world closer to reality by helping overcome its Achilles’ heel: how all those sensors will be powered, given the impracticality and expense of installing and changing batteries.
A tiny vibration energy scavenging device half the size of a sugar cube could replace the need for batteries.
“The market for wireless sensors is finally taking off, and their power requirements have dropped to the point where a good vibrational energy scavenger is plenty,” Pister says. “And it looks like MicroGen has built a very good vibrational energy scavenger. It’s an exciting time for the company.”
Under the guidance of Wu, Andosca developed a novel theoretical model and optimum design parameters for the microscale harvester that allowed him to crank up its power to record levels.
BOLTTM – R MicroPower Generators are MEMS-based Vibrational Energy Harvesting Micro Power Generators (MPGs) MicroGen Systems’ BOLTTM family of Micro Power Generator products based on piezoelectric energy harvesting are fabricated using MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) technology. These devices convert mechanical vibration to electrical energy (power), and the energy can be stored for later use using energy harvesting (EH) boards with advanced thin-film batteries or ultra-capacitors and power management electronics. MicroGen’s micro-generators are ideal to power autonomous non-wireless electronics, wireless sensors, and rechargeable batteries for a wide range of applications.
• Operational frequencies f1 available at 100, 120, and 600 Hz; custom design/frequency 100-1500 Hz
o Single vibrational axis; typical voltage V and power P full-width-half-maximum (FWHM) = 2.0 Hz / 1.0 Hz
o Output voltage OCV > 10 Volts, and output power Pload 25-100 uW @ f1 and G @ 0.1 G
In 2013, the energy harvester won top honors at the MEMS Showcase at the MEMS Executive Congress in Napa, Calif.
The success attracted funding. A Belgium-based holding company called Xtrion invested $3.9 million in the company. Nearly as important, it offered the capabilities of two majority-owned subsidiaries. The first, X-FAB, operates a series of state-of-the-art semiconductor- MEMS foundries in Europe, Malaysia and the U.S. MicroGen’s products are now being manufactured at an X-FAB facility in Germany.
The second company, Melexis, produces integrated circuit sensor components for the automotive market. It has licensed MicroGen’s technology to power its sensors in the tire-pressure monitoring systems mandated in passenger cars in the U.S. and the European Union.
Andosca has backstopped his R&D prowess with a business plan savvy enough to have won New York State’s Creative Core Emerging Business Competition in 2012, earning MicroGen $200,000. The plan also helped MicroGen win three contracts from the New York Energy Research Development Authority totaling $3 million.
The plan calls for a strategically sequenced entry into the Internet of Things market, beginning with the industrial market in 2014, progressing to the tire-pressure monitoring systems market for high-use vehicles in 2016, moving to the passenger car market in the latter part of the decade and later targeting the wider IoT world.
Andosca has eager customers lined up in each of the first two phases — with the first X-FAB manufactured products coming to market in October 2014 — and anticipates annual sales of $100 million by 2019.