Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have developed self-powered sensors that can autonomously sense, compute, and store information about strain rates. Dr. Shantanu Chakrabartty discovered a unique synchrony between physics of flash memory and physics of devices that convert mechanical stress into energy. “The key feature of the [piezo-floating-gate] sensing technology that differentiates it from existing health and usage monitoring systems is its unique combination of small size, self-powered, on-board computation, low-cost and long autonomous operating life,” said Dr. Chakrabartty. “Because of its self-powered operation, the technology can easily be integrated within an existing RFID infrastructure within the framework of the Internet-of-things.”
The technology can be leveraged to offer many practical benefits, ranging from reducing maintenance costs for structures such as roads and bridges to improving human health and safety with biomedical implants. The sensors are being piloted in various applications and Dr. Chakrabartty will optimize the sensors for different uses. For example, the miniature sensors can be attached to or embedded inside pavement, placed inside the human body in medical implants such as artificial knee replacements. The sensors collect information about strain, which can then be remotely retrieved with a smartphone and used to predict mechanical failure.
Dr. Chakrabartty and his team have been working on the technology with support from four National Science Foundation grants since 2006. The research has resulted in two patents, along with several additional patents pending and the formation of a start-up company called Piezonix that will commercialize the self-powered sensors.