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MIT researchers are working on a chip that can harvest energy from the sun, heat and movement. Will this make changing batteries a thing of the past?
Changing batteries in some electronics might be a thing of the past, if researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have their way. They have developed a new chip that can harvest energy from the sun, heat and movement. The breakthrough with this chip is that it can get energy from all three sources at once, and use it in real time.
“Today, there are devices to scavenge energy from solar or vibration. This can replace [them] to provide more power by combining several sources”, says Anantha Chandrakasan, the MIT professor who led the chip’s development.
The chip powers itself through integrated solar cells, thermoelectric generators and vibration harvesters, bypassing the need for a battery. This also makes for more efficient use of the energy, asserts Saurav Bandyopadhyay, a doctoral student who assisted with the project. Its applications are limited, however, since the amount of energy it can generate is capped at five volts.
So where might it crop up? Expect to see it in biomedical devices – such as an ECG monitor – environmental sensors, and any hard-to-reach spot where replacing a battery would be difficult.
“[The chip] opens up the door to deploying technologies in environments that would previously have been considered unfeasible […] environments that are too poor, remote, or undeveloped to have reliable energy infrastructure”, says Ahmed Amer, an Associate Professor in computer engineering at the University of Santa Clara.
This might include military applications, according to Chandrakasan. Not unlikely, given that the research was funded by the Interconnect Focus Center, which is home to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Chandrakasan says the chip “would be ideal for distributed sensors where replacing a battery is not feasible”.
So, if you don’t spot the chip in coming years, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there… – John Eischeid
Photo: Comstock/ Thinkstock, Christine Daniloff MIT