Breakthrough in powering wireless sensors

ANU Research School of Engineering's Dr Salman Durrani
ANU Research School of Engineering's Dr Salman Durrani

Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) are a step closer to harvesting renewable or ambient energy from mobile phone base stations to power battery-operated wireless sensors.

Lead researcher Dr Salman Durrani from the ANU Research School of Engineering said current wireless sensors for buildings, biomedical applications or wildlife monitoring use batteries that are often difficult to replace.

However, ANU researchers have accurately modelled how much energy it takes to sense and transfer information by wireless sensors. What’s more, they have found it is feasible to replace batteries with energy harvested from solar or ambient radio frequency sources such as communication towers or other mobile phone base stations, with communication delays typically limited to less than a few hundred milliseconds.

Wireless sensors are increasingly being used in many aspects of daily life. For example, Australian viticulture uses sensors to measure temperature, wind speed, light, humidity and soil moisture to optimise the growth of grapes and prevent crop loss due to excessive heat or frost. Wireless sensors are used in sports such as rowing, to collect performance data from athletes.

They are also used for condition monitoring of structures such as bridges and machinery in factories.

Although the technology is years away, Dr Durrani said the research deals with an important and wide-reaching practical problem.

“If we can use energy harvesting to solve the battery replacement problem for wireless sensors, we can implement long-lasting monitoring devices for health, agriculture, mining, wildlife and critical national infrastructure, which will improve the quality of life,” Dr Durrani said.