At the upcoming International Consumer Electronics Show, Texas Instruments (TI) will demonstrate a new sensor network that harvests the energy that comes from changes in temperature, vibrations, wind, and light in order to help power wearable smart devices.
There are many applications already related to harvesting power but most involved large solar panels or sensors. TI reports the development of small-sized electronics capable of taking small amounts of power generated by harvested sources and turning them into a useful power source.
Niranjan Pathare, TI’s senior marketing development manager, explains, “All these ambient energy sources, such as the difference in temperature in a pipe carrying hot water and the outside air, can generate 300 to 400 millivolts, which isn’t enough to power anything. TI has built an ultra-low powered DC-to-DC switching converter that can boost this power to three to five volts.”
It is enough energy to charge a battery. TI is also using energy from the human body to power wearables via harvesters the size of wristwatch straps. The practical application is that light and heat harvested from the body could power a smart-watch could use two harvested power sources. TI notes that while these sources may not accrue enough power to keep a smart-watch operating continuously before the device needs recharging, it could significantly extend battery life.
TI product marketing engineer William Cooper observes: “Obviously, the longer you can make that [battery] last the happier the consumer is going to be with its performance.”
TI believes the technology has many applications in industrial and home environments.
Gartner analyst Steve Ohr adds: “TI has the parts that will take this micro-power input and actually make some useful voltage and current that could power something.”