Sony Unveils an Energy Harvesting Chip for "Electromagnetic Noise," Capable of Milliwatt Outputs

Tiny chip turns the unintentional outputs of everything from TVs and household lights to robots and vending machines into usable power.

Sony Semiconductor Solutions (SSS) has announced a new energy-harvesting module aimed at the Internet of Things (IoT), capturing electromagnetic noise and turning it into usable power for sensors.

"The new module applies technology that SSS has cultivated in the tuner development process to generate power from electromagnetic wave noise with a high level of efficiency," the company claims of its creation. "For example, this technology can use the constant electromagnetic wave noise generated by robots inside factories, monitors and lighting in offices, monitors and TVs in stores and homes, and the like to provide the stable power supply needed to run low-power consumption IoT sensors and communications equipment."

Energy harvesting is receiving increasing attention as a workaround for the problem of an ever-increasing number of small nodes on the Internet of Things — each one of which may only draw milliwatts or microwatts on its own, but add up in volume to a major power draw. Popular energy harvesting systems harness sources ranging from solar energy to movement energy, but Sony's creation opts for electromagnetic noise instead — unintentional outputs from everything from LED lighting and TV sets to industrial robots.

The company 7×7mm (around 0.28×0.28") energy harvesting module uses a device's existing metal parts as part of a receiving antenna for a high-efficiency rectifier circuit which, the company says, can capture electromagnetic noise in frequencies from "several Hz" to 100MHz. "This is the industry’s first energy harvesting technology based on this method that achieves highly efficient power generation," Sony claims. "By efficiently utilizing previously ignored electromagnetic wave noise as a new power source, it enables a stable power supply for equipment."

While Sony has not yet released full specifications for the module, it claims it to be capable of harvesting "from several dozen μW to several dozen mW of power" from a range of common devices including household appliances, computers, lighting systems, elevators, cars, and even vending machines, even when they devices aren't in active use — so long as they're powered. The company also claims it can be used as a remote sensor for predictive maintenance, monitoring changes in the harvested energy levels to infer the status of the noise-generating devices.

Sony has not yet released pricing, availability, or technical details for the module, but says it "looks forward to working with partners from various industries to develop products based on this technology, which shows promise across a wide variety of applications."

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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