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Researchers carve out path for a wireless, greener IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) plays a critical role in making commercial real estate buildings smart, as devices and systems like security cameras, thermostats, lighting and locks can all be controlled over the internet. While convenient, IoT devices need a lot of sensors to operate, which isn’t the most eco-friendly.

A recent King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) study revealed that a more economically and environmentally sustainable IoT is possible, however, SciTechDaily reports. The combination of thin-film device technologies that use alternative semiconductor materials like printable organics, nanocarbon allotropes, and metal oxides could make this eco-friendlier version of IoT possible, according to the KAUST team.

The vision of a more sustainable IoT comes at an ideal time as its presence becomes larger in more industries as well as everyday life. IoT connects and facilitates the data that’s exchanged between smart devices, from remote-controlled home security systems to self-driving vehicles, over the internet as well as other sensing and communications networks.

As the number of IoT devices could hit the trillions by the next decade, more sensors will be deployed, increasing the need for environmentally conscious alternatives. Right now, battery technology powers sensor nodes. Unfortunately, batteries must be replaced consistently, which isn’t good for the environment or cost effective. There’s also the possibility that battery production won’t be able to keep pace with the growing demand as the number of sensors increases, SciTechDaily reports.

A path toward a greener IoT

Wireless connectivity could play a role in achieving a more sustainable IoT, according to the KAUST study. Rather than relying on batteries, wirelessly powered sensor nodes could draw energy from the environment with “energy harvesters.” Examples include photovoltaic cells and radio frequency (RF) energy harvesters. Large-area electronics could help enable these alternate power sources.

KAUST alumni Kalaivanan Loganathan, with Thomas Anthopoulos and colleagues, examined various large-area electronic technologies’ viability, as well as their potential to deliver eco-friendly, wirelessly powered IoT sensors.

Large-area electronics have been revealed as an attractive alternative to the traditional silicon-based technologies, SciTechDaily reports. The technology emerged as a favorite due to its solution-based processing, which has allowed devices and circuits to be “easier to print on flexible, large-area substrates.” The fact that they can be produced at low temperatures and on paper makes them more environmentally friendly.

“These devices are crucial components in wireless energy harvesters and ultimately dictate the performance and cost of the sensor nodes,” Loganathan said of some of the technology Anthopoulos’ team has developed over the years.

The KAUST team’s notable contributions include scalable methods to manufacture RF diodes so energy that reaches the 5G/6G frequency range can be harvested.

“Such technologies provide the needed building blocks toward a more sustainable way to power the billions of sensor nodes in the near future,” Anthopoulos said.

The KAUST team is investigating the “monolithic integration of these low-power devices with antenna and sensors to showcase their true potential,” Loganathan told SciTechDaily.



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