Fraunhofer's ZEPOWEL Project Unveils Two Energy-Saving Sensors for the Internet of Things

The organization's "lighthouse project" bears fruit with an energy-harvesting air quality sensor and an industrial control system.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration has announced the initial products of its ZEPOWEL "lighthouse project:" Two sensor nodes, one for controlling machines and the other for air quality measurement, designed with energy-efficiency wireless communications in mind.

Fraunhofer's ZEPOWEL project, founded in 2018, has one key goal, from which its name is derived: Working towards zero-power electronics. While absolutely zero-power devices may be a challenge, the project — which brings together eight Fraunhofer institutes, including the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration — is succeeding in dropping the power draw of systems dramatically.

"The sensor node hardware that we have developed in the project sets itself apart because it can be constructed modularly from various building blocks, allowing it to be adapted to a range of applications," explains Erik Jung of the project. "A number of partners have contributed their insights on how to create efficient chips and control electronics, while others have offered their expertise on constructing small and efficient batteries and energy converters, and on secure wireless protocols."

The project has developed two key sensors. The first: A "self-sufficient" sensor designed to track air quality in a city, dropping itself into an ultra-low power sleep mode of mere nanowatts when possible and harvesting the power it needs from vibrations around it. "These nodes are tiny and affordable, require zero maintenance, and can be used in many places," Jung claims, revealing a plan to install the sensors in cars and buses over the coming months, "making it possible to establish a highly integrated measurement network."

The second sensor is designed to help other systems save power: A node which can be added to motorised machines to automatically power a machine of up to 15KW at up to 850V when it's required, and shut it down when it's not. "In the industrial world, there are still a lot of machines that are not speed-controlled," Jung explains. "At a rough estimate, carbon dioxide emissions across Germany would be reduced by around 20 percent if industry were to make extensive use of intelligent sensors with integrated controls."

Fraunhofer has not yet released technical details of the sensors, nor offered pricing information. More details can be found in the organization's press release.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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