As smart home technologies gradually embrace the world around us, we begin to understand and appreciate the importance of wireless communications. Especially when those wireless connections are robust and efficient.
New wireless communication sensor
Fraunhofer and their ZEPOWEL lighthouse project have offered a new addition to the world’s wireless market. This technology has initiated the creation of hardware to make it energy-efficient and enable it to save energy.
The project is examining the use of two sensor nodes. One of these nodes will control machines, and the other will evaluate the quality of air within the city.
Sensor usage is on the rise
Whether these sensors are surveilling property at night or monitoring the operation of machinery during a manufacturing process, there is a growing demand for using them to control and monitor activities.
We see sensors that alert authorities if a window is suddenly opened and others that detect when a machine is wasting energy. And these is only a few examples of what they can do these days.
Through the use of microcontrollers, these small units can analyze any scenario and then submit a wireless signal when specific criteria are met. Experts see this usage skyrocketing in the new few years as millions of devices become wirelessly connected in a network using the Internet. More and more commercial and industrial operations will have a wireless connection to smart home technologies.
Energy demand equal to all of Germany
The massive quantity of sensor nodes that are online today is eating up enormous amounts of energy. Even in 2013, the energy usage for all devices within the global network was using as much energy as all of Germany – based on a study performed by the International Energy Agency in Paris.
Because of this energy demand, eight Fraunhofer Institutes combined to initiate the ZEPOWEL lighthouse project. Its objective was to create a highly energy-efficient sensor node. It is expected that they will introduce two solutions very soon.
One of these solutions pertains to a self-sufficient sensor node. It will supply itself with energy and collect its air samples to produce environmental data on air quality. The other node will serve to report and record the present status of various machinery, such as pumps and motors, to reduce their collective energy consumption.
“The sensor node hardware that we have developed in the project sets itself apart because it can be constructed modularly from various building blocks, allowing it to be adapted to a range of applications,” stated Erik Jung. He is a project team member from the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration has compiled each individual development from the various institutes to construct a whole functional unit.
Jung also points out, “A number of partners have contributed their insights on how to create efficient chips and control electronics, while others have offered their expertise on constructing small and efficient batteries and energy converters, and on secure wireless protocols.”
Self-sufficient sensors in smart homes and smart cities
A significant feature of this new self-sufficient sensor node, referred to as the “smart city node,” is that it automatically shifts into a highly energy-saving state when it is no longer needed. When it reaches this state, it requires only a few nanowatts.
The self-sufficient node will only power up when activated wirelessly—such as when it needs to measure particulate matter and transmit those measurements via wireless technology.
This smart city node is expected to be installed within buses and cars during the coming months. As the system harnesses an energy converter, it will get its power from the vibrations experienced during its journey.
“These nodes are tiny and affordable, require zero maintenance, and can be used in many places—making it possible to establish a highly integrated measurement network,” Erik Jung said.
In the future, these kinds of sensors could even be deployed for agricultural operations. It could measure and record things like soil moisture and nutrient content at a specific location with a very high level of precision. This would allow farmers to fertilize and irrigate their fields in a more targeted manner. This sensor-driven precision farming is really gaining popularity.
Teaching machines to save energy
The second version of the sensor node is to be used in machines that have motors. Believe it or not, many machines today are still stopped and started manually. Furthermore, after an order has been completed, they’ll keep running in an idle mode until someone pushes another button.
Using measurement technology, this new sensor node possesses innovative power electronics that can trigger at 15 kilowatts and boost voltages as high as 850 volts. When the node is linked to a machine, it will then power it up and down and run it at a predetermined speed.
“In the industrial world, there are still many machines that are not speed-controlled,” mentions Erik Jung. Replacing them with new machinery comes at a considerable cost, so it makes more sense to modify them with an intelligent sensor node instead.
“At a rough estimate, carbon dioxide emissions across Germany would be reduced by around 20 percent if industry were to make extensive use of intelligent sensors with integrated controls.”
The ZEPOWEL lighthouse project has undoubtedly shown the world how it can be done. Bravo to them; the world needs more efforts like this one. Imagine the impact this will have on the future of smart home technology.