Throughout the years I have worked on a number of energy autonomous sensing and computing systems that harvest all of the energy they need for operation from the environment. While this page lists a number of individual research efforts the ultimate goal is to create a new class of devices that can be ubiquitously deployed through out our environments and operated perpetually.
While at Intel Labs I designed an energy-harvesting node that for use in Internet of Things and Wearable applications. The goal was to create a device that is completely energy autonomous, meaning that all of the power needed for sensing, processing, and communication his harvested from the environment. This node operates off of solar and/or thermal sources, and the power management circuitry is able to recharge the thin-film battery (or capacitor bank) and provide regulated power to the board. An ultra low power MCU was used to interface with a variety of sensors including: ambient light, battery voltage, 3D accelerometer, 3D compass and high precision barometer. An ANT+ radio module is used to streaming data back to a host computer. Result show that quiescent power draws was as low as 1.4uW and at a 2 second message rate the average power consumption is ~50uW for the entire system.
We demoed the non-form factor version of this energy-harvesting node as part of the Intel Labs Keynote at the Intel Developers forum in 2013. When red wine was poured into a glass equipped with copper and zinc electrodes enough power was provided to the energy-harvesting node to power on the microcontroller, wireless communication module, and sensors. When the development board was move accelerometer sensor data was streamed to the host computer in real time and an image of an orchid moved on the computer screen.
Energy harvesting devices experience power intermittence, causing the system to reset and power-cycle unpredictably, tens to hundreds of times per second. In order to enable the community to easily develop new energy harvesting sensing and computing devices, we have created an energy-interference-free hardware and software-debugging platform called EDB. This tool allows developers to monitor code execution and the power stated of the device without artificially injecting power into the platform, which can mask many bugs that only occur when operating off of harvested power. EDB re-creates a familiar debugging environment for intermittent software and augments it with debugging primitives for effective diagnosis of intermittence bugs.
While the traditional use of radio signals is for information transmission, it is possible to harvest, convert, and store this energy using dedicated devices. The WARP sensor node successfully demonstrates the ability to harvest ambient radio waves and use them to power an energy autonomous sensor node capable of sensing temperature and ambient light levels, perform computation with an ultra low power microcontroller, and communicate wirelessly with a 2.4 GHz radio. The minimal RF input power required for sensor node operation was -18 dBm (15.8 µW). Using a 6 dBi receive antenna, our device can operate at a distance of 10.4 km from a 1 MW UHF television broadcast transmitter, and over 200 m from a cellular base transceiver station.
“Intel researcher Alanson Sample demonstrates a smart ID Badge which is enhanced with an E-ink display, ultra-low power radios, RFID, and energy harvesting capabilities. The badge is designed to be a companion device to a smart phone displaying useful information such as personalized calendars, reminders, text messages, etc., while securely carrying personal information that can be used to identify and authenticate a user.” - Intel Corporation, 2013
In both academia and industry it is always great to see your research make it off the page, out of the lab, and into the real world. Often times this means handing off your favorite projects to other talented people who will carry them to the goal line. Here I am defining a
Tech Transfer as an effort to commercialize one of my research projects that has become public.
While at Intel Labs I worked on a variety of energy harvesting projects for IoT and wearable applications. Using the lessons learned from the “Wirelessly Powered Bi-stable Display Tag" project, I worked with a team of talented software and hardware engineers to develop an E-ink enabled Smart ID Badge that incorporated solar and near-field RFID energy harvesting. The goal was to create a secure wearable ID badge that links to ones smart phone as a secondary display for task like calendar reminders and notifications. An adaptive software and hardware architecture enabled the smart ID Badge to modulate its workload to the amount of available power and stored energy. Thereby, insuring perpetual operation for mission critical security tasks while offering extra features when power is plentiful.
“For truly productive collaboration, we need to stay connected to, and updated by, our primary work device without being disrupted. Intel Labs is working on smart environments and sensors that people can set and forget. An Smart ID Badge [aka eBadge] is a secure wearable device that carries personal information identifying and authenticating the wearer, and also harvests energy to sustain itself. The Smart ID Badge can also team up with a smart phone to display useful information like your calendar, reminders or text messages.” - Intel Corporation, 2013
Radio frequency signals provide a near ubiquitous energy source due to the large number of TV, radio, cellular, and WiFi transmitters throughout our urban environments. The Wireless Ambient Radio Power (WARP) project harvests and converts these signals into power for use in an variety of applications.
The WISP is a programmable, battery-free sensing and computing platform designed to explore sensor-enhanced UHF RFID applications. This open-source platform communicates with and harvests all its power from commercially available UHF RFID readers. As part of Intel Research’s WISP Challenge 500 WISPs have been donated to over 50 universities worldwide.
The NFC-WISP is a wirelessly powered near-field RFID platform that is enhanced with onboard computing, sensing capabilities, and an E-ink display. This open-source platform is also compliant with NFC RFID readers commonly found in handheld devices and smart phones and offers designers and researchers a means to rapidly develop custom NFC applications.
Energy Harvesting has been a general theme of my research throughout my graduate studies and professional career. I have had the good fortune to work with many talented people while at the University of Washington, Intel Labs, and Disney Research.