5 more tech breakthroughs in access, power, control

By , Computerworld |  Networking, emerging technology

By the end of the year, Sadri expects four semiconductor companies, which he declined to name, to produce samples of WiGig's reference design chip for a new generation of wireless electronics. The needed chips should be in full production in 2012, he says.

By 2013, WiGig devices could be in TVs, computers, phones, tablets and other electronics, and eventually "a few uses we can't even imagine today," says Sadri.

Self-powered electronics: Power without the plug

Zhong Lin Wang dreams of electronic devices that can power themselves. If the materials science professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Nanoscience Research Group has his way, replacing or recharging batteries could soon seem "so 2010."

Wang's team at Georgia Tech has designed tiny generators that can produce enough energy to power very small devices. These high-output nanogenerators, HONGs for short, can produce between 2 and 10 volts from a flexible chip smaller than a fingernail.

The design starts with a microscopic array of zinc oxide (ZnO) fibers, or nanowires, each thinner than a human hair. These fiber arrays are embedded into multiple layers of metal electrodes and plastic polymers to create a flexible nanowire "sandwich."

Under an electron microscope, the strands look like the bristles of a very small brush, and they have the seemingly magical piezoelectric property of producing a tiny electrical current when moved or squeezed. Put billions of them together, and you get enough energy to power devices without using an external source of electricity.

"We turn motion into power," says Wang. So far, HONG devices have lit LED lights, run calculator LCD screens and powered rudimentary electronics in the lab. That's just the beginning.

Wang and his team are working on creating HONGs that can power complete wireless devices. Their current project is to make self-powered environmental sensors for a variety of uses.

For instance, the Georgia Tech team is working on a sensor that could be embedded in a bridge. "Surrounded by concrete, it wouldn't be easy to change the sensor's batteries," Wang quips. But with a HONG generator inside, the sensor could be powered by the vibrations of cars and trucks driving over the bridge.

The idea is that every 30 minutes, the sensor -- and dozens like it in the structure -- would send a reading to a receiving station for analysis. If the sensors showed that the bridge was in danger of collapsing, the structure could be shut down, preventing a disaster like the 2007 collapse of the Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis.

"This is an especially promising area," says NIST's Seiler. "It lets us think less about the device's battery running out of power and concentrate on what it's supposed to do."


Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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