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Devices powered out of thin air

Researchers have discovered a way of harnessing energy from the air around us that could potentially power wireless sensors, microprocessors and communications chips.

“There is a large amount of electromagnetic energy all around us, but nobody has been able to tap into it,” said Manos Tentzeris, professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Tentzeris’ scavenging device could be used by itself or with other generating technologies. For example, scavenged energy could assist a solar element to charge a battery during the day.

If a battery or a solar-collector or battery package failed completely, scavenged energy could allow the system to transmit a wireless distress signal while also maintaining critical functionalities, according to a Georgia Tech statement.

Tentzeris and his team are using inkjet printers to combine sensors, antennas and energy scavenging capabilities on paper or flexible polymers.

They believe that self-powered, wireless paper-based sensors will soon be widely available at very low cost. They could be used for applications that include airport security.

Airports have both multiple security concerns and vast amounts of available ambient energy from radar and communications sources.

These dual factors make them a natural environment for large numbers of wireless sensors capable of detecting potential threats such as explosives or smuggled nuclear material.

These Next Gen sensors could be used for chemical, biological, heat and stress sensing for defense and industry; radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging for manufacturing and shipping, among others.

These findings were presented earlier this month at the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium in Spokane, Washington.

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