Tag Archives: Internet of Things

Human motion will Power the Internet of Things, say energy harvesting engineers

Most people generate enough power to continuously transmit data at a rate of 1 Kb/s, say researchers who have audited the harvestable energy from human motion.

The Internet of Things is the imagined network of data links that will emerge when everyday objects are fitted with tiny identifying devices.

The idea is that every parcel in a post office would transmit its position, origin and destination so that it can be tracked and routed more efficiently, that every product on a supermarket shelf would transmit its contents, price, shelf life and so on, that your smartphone would interrogate the contents of your fridge and cupboards every time you walk into the kitchen to warn you when the milk is running low.

Each of these things will enhance our businesses and lifestyles in a small way. But taken together, this Internet of Things will entirely transform the way we interact with the world around us.

But there’s a problem: these tiny identifying devices require a power source. Batteries are expensive and impractical so computer scientists are hoping to harvest the necessary energy from the environment, in particular from lights and from human motion.The question is how much energy is available in this way. That’s relatively straightforward to answer for indoor lights (about 50-100 microwatts per cm^2). But the energy available from human motion is much harder to assess.

That’s caught the interest of Maria Gorlatova and team at Columbia University in New York who have measured the inertial energy available from the activity of 40 individuals over periods up to 9 days. To do this they attached to each person inertial energy harvesting devices, essentially a mass attached to a spring, that recorded their motion.

“To the best of our knowledge, the dataset that we analyze is the first publicly available acceleration dataset collected for a large number of participants,” they say.

They also measured the power available from the movement of objects such as doors, drawers and pencils to see how much might be harvested here.

The results are often surprising and sometimes counter-intuitive. Here’s a list of their main findings:

  • Periodic motion is energy rich. So writing with a pencil generates more power (10-15 microwatts) than the acceleration associated with a 3-hour flight flight including take off, landing and turbulence, which never generated more than 5 microwatts.
  • Humans are passive most of the time. About 95 per cent of the total harvestable energy they produce is generated during less than 7 per cent of the day.
  • Walking generates the same amount of power as indoor lighting (about 150 microwatts). Running generates around 800 microwatts.
  • Purposeful shaking generates up to 3,500 microwatts, 30 times more than walking.
  • Even though it requires less exertion, walking downstairs generates more power than going upstairs because of the higher accelerations involved.
  • Taller people generate about 20 per cent more power than shorter people.
  • The difference between people’s power output depends largely on the amount of walking they do. Sensor placement on the body makes little difference.
  • Most people generate enough power to continuously transmit data at the rate of about 1 Kb/s (more than 5 microwatts).

That’s an interesting set of results. Engineers are already designing algorithms to manage the way energy is harvested, stored and then used. Gorlatova and co say this kind of work will help to make these as efficient as possible.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1307.0044: Movers and Shakers: Kinetic Energy Harvesting for the Internet of Things

Technology in Africa: Extracting insights from Big Data

The big data opportunity for Africa came into sharp focus this week when IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and key members of her executive team visited Africa to meet with clients and government leaders. “Going forward, data is going to be THE source of competitive advantage,” Rometty told a South African audience.

Already, African companies are harnessing big data to transform their businesses. Take Santam Ltd., the leading short-term insurance company in South Africa. The company is using predictive analysts to streamline the processing of claims and to spot potentially fraudulent claims. When Anesh Govender reported for duty as Santam’s head of operations for finance, his boss told him that he wanted to do more with less. Govender quickly spotted data as his leverage point. “I was amazed how much data was available but how little of it was being used” he said. Govender was one of the presenters at IBM’s South African gathering.

He decided to completely overhaul the claims processing system. In the past, every claim went through the same steps of being reviewed manually by staff members. Today, they’re all fed into a predictive analytics software program that channels routine claims into a queue for quick action. The others go through deeper analysis that takes into account not just the current claim but a lot more information about the customer and their past claim activities. Computer algorithms search for patterns that suggests the claims might be fraudulent. One example: Fraudsters typically start with small false claims and, if they’re successful, submit larger ones. Govender’s staff has tuned the algorithms so they identify the maximum amount of false claims without producing too many false positives—which require extra work by the claims processing staff. Today, they kick out only 1% of claims for deep fraud analysis, and about 30% of them are fraudulent.


NXP and Cherry team up to make an energy-harvesting wireless light switch

Last week, at CES 2013 NXP Semiconductors and Cherry — yes, the same Cherry that makes switches for mechanical keyboards — showed off a light switch. It might not seem like something that could stand up against huge OLED televisions or Android-based mobile gaming platforms, but after surveying the best of CES, you might change your mind about just how impressive this switch is. After all, this switch is wireless, battery-less, energy-harvesting, and parting of the “Internet of Things,” making it one of the most high-tech — and on trend — gadgets at the show.

The light switch, which looks like any other and includes a dimmer, is simply a combination of Cherry’s energy-harvesting switch and a radio. That radio communicates with a receiver that is placed inside the base of an LED light bulb (in most cases a standard E27 base). This means that the switch isn’t designed to work with any old LED bulb, unless the receiver, NXP’s ultra-low-power JN5168 microcontroller, is moved to a fixture or some other component behind the bulb. The JN5168 is designed to support JenNet-IP, ZigBee, and RF4CE networking stacks so it can work with multiple home automation scenarios, not just lighting.

The wireless isn’t the interesting component here, it’s Cherry’s energy-harvesting switch. The device, which Cherry seems to have actually named the “Energy Harvesting RF Switch,” manages to grab from 0.2 to 0.5mW from the switch activation. The force required to push the switch is 8 newtons or about 1.8 pounds-force (or, more technically, 8kg·m/s²) — basically you don’t need to pound this switch or rock it back-and-forth for a minute to generate a sufficient amount of power.

Internet of things blurs the line between bits and atoms

Imagine googling your home to find your child’s lost toy, or remotely turning on the tumble dryer for yet another cycle – after it has text you that the clothes were still damp, or your plant tweeting you to be watered.

It might have been sci-fi just a decade ago, but with the Internet forcing its way into every aspect of our lives, cyberspace is leaking out into the real world. In the past few months, companies ranging from giants such as Google to small start-ups have been touting the possibility of interconnecting people and objects – lightbulbs, fridges, cars, buildings – to create an internet of things.

Many say this is a trend bound to hit us all in the near future. “Some of the things that are possible are truly unbelievable,” says Constantine Valhouli from the Hammersmith Group, a strategy consulting firm.

“We’ve moved from a desktop internet to mobile phones and mobile internet – the next step is buildings and objects, enabling us to communicate with them directly or enabling them to even bypass people entirely and communicate directly with each other.” Imagine a production line where machines alert one another about production problems or bottlenecks, or cars that warn each other about driving conditions or a crash on the road ahead.

The internet’s next big frontier


In its early days the internet was seen simply as a way of transferring data across large distances but it is now playing an ever increasing part in our lives.

David Reid reports on what is seen as the next big frontier for the web – called the internet of things – allowing you to use your smartphone to control your home heating, pay for parking and even monitor your own fitness.