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Researchers harness solar energy for sensor nodes

Posted: 04 Sep 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Fraunhofer IMS? sensor? SOLCHIP? solar energy? ASIC?

The significance and far-reaching applications of sensors cannot be denied. It is also accepted for a fact that one single sensor, in all the various benefits it can afford, works even better side by side with another sensor to deliver better results. Now the issue that remains is how to bring this into realisation while also delivering cost efficiency and practicality.

Sensors are more powerful when part of a team. Sensor networks made up of individual sensor modules that communicate wirelessly with one another have the capacity to measure local parameters over large areas, and then to pass these data on among sensor modules to a central station. This makes sensor networks suitable for a range of applications, whether for fire prevention or monitoring large areas of farmland. The issue of how to power the individual sensor modules remains a sticking point in these sorts of applications.

The solar cell sits directly on the sensor module's silicon chip

Figure 1: The solar cell sits directly on the sensor module's silicon chip.

Wiring the sensors together is hardly a viable option nowadays due to the cumbersome and costly installation. What's more, many applications require the sensor network to blend unobtrusively into the surroundings and not to have an impact on the aesthetics. An example of this would be the systems used for adjusting window positions as part of smart building management programmes. Using batteries to power the sensor network does eliminate the need for inconvenient cables, but the amount of maintenance involved in replacing the batteries regularly as required should not be underestimated, particularly in large networks.

Now, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS have developed an ingenious alternative based on Sol Chip IP. The resource they have harnessed to provide power is one that is freely available in almost any location: sunlight.

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