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DARPA looking to develop remote wireless sensors that use almost no power

Tue 14 Apr 2015

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking to develop a new generation of sensors which draw so little power in idle mode as to extend their recharge limit from weeks to years. The N-ZERO ‘Asleep-yet-Aware’ initiative, for which the organisation is seeking partners and contributors, is intended to create wireless remote sensors that are ‘phenomenally more efficient’, drawing a mere 10 nanowatts during the sensor’s dormant state – 1000 times lower power-draw than the current state-of-the-art sensors, and effectively equivalent to the draw from an idling watch battery in storage.

From a military point of view, the project is intended to aide field surveillance by radically cutting down maintenance time for sensors. DARPA program manager Troy Olsson said: “It is the waiting for a specific event or activity that constrains mission life and drains the battery energy of these essential electronics,” and continued “By cutting reliance on active power and enhancing battery life, N-ZERO aims to enable wireless, ubiquitous sensing that is energy efficient and safer for the warfighter. Our goal is to use the right signal itself to wake up the sensor, which would improve sensors’ effectiveness and warfighters’ situational awareness by drastically reducing false alarms,”

The project seeks to use or at least employ some of the energy generated by ‘recordable’ events to allow remote sensors to remain in passive mode for very long periods of time without attention from engineers or maintenance crews; for example, the sound or frequency signature associated with a particular type of vehicle or the frequency of a particular radio protocol.

Initial approaches to the challenge will be in the areas of electromagnetic, RF, acoustic and inertial detection and analysis, and any breakthrough the project can unearth would have a radical effect on the future of the Internet of Things (IoT); the possibilities cited include N-ZERO sensors attached to bridges which can wait years for cracks to appear, but respond and report the event. “By advancing state-of-the-art sensing capabilities for national security through N-ZERO,” Olson said. “DARPA could help make the Internet of Things more efficient and effective across countless scenarios and environments, thus transforming the way people live,”

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