Noise Harvesting Module Helps Power IoT Sensors

Published: October 19, 2023

Sony Semiconductor’s new module will be available to device manufacturers and IoT solution providers to leverage mechanical noise to power sensors.

To build more sustainable IoT solutions, Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation (SSS) has developed and patented an energy harvesting solution for the IoT market that draws its power from electromagnetic-wave noise. It captures the electromagnetic wave energy when applied to the metal side of the machine or object that is creating that noise. While some IoT sensors leverage energy from standard batteries, RF transmissions, light, thermal, or vibration, this may be the first commercially available solution that draws power from machines or devices’ noise, simply by operating.

The module, which the company will release in sample versions in November, captures noise made by mechanical or industrial machinery and generates energy from that noise that a sensor could use to collect data about conditions or transmit via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or other IoT technologies.

Sensors Applied to Noise-Emitting Machines

SSS says its technology enables the first application of energy harvesting from noise, leveraging the metallic side of a piece of equipment as part of the antenna.

Tom Berry, SSS’ Analog LSI Business Division representative

The technology was developed to create a more sustainable energy source for low-power objects than those powered by traditional batteries or other energy harvesting methods. In fact, says Tom Berry, an untitled SSS’ Analog LSI Business Division representative. “The purpose of our development was twofold.” First, he says, it is intended to be a contribution to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs). He says the modules are designed “to contribute to building original IoT networks independent of existing networks. This technology can retrofit existing IoT equipment to capture and manage IoT data about a piece of machinery or electronics. “In addition, though, sensors are being added in industrial, retail, and other environments, using the existing noise in the background for various purposes.”

The need for energy harvesting is growing as IoT technology proliferates. “When we look at the energy harvesting device market, there is a six-fold increase from today to 2030,” says Berry. (Currently, around 1.3 billion devices are in use, which will increase to approximately 9.5 billion devices by 2030). These devices consist of everything from small portable electronics carrying low-energy power sources- calculators or smart watches – to connected sensors that require an independent power supply and are connected to a network.

Initially, one of the first concepts is to harvest energy from electrical fields coming from domestic appliances and industrial machines, says Berry. To make that work, the module employs a built-in antenna and the metal surface of a noise-making device to act as a second antenna. The module uses a rectifier circuit with enhanced electricity conversion efficiency, which allows it to convert electromagnetic wave noise in a range of several Hz – up to 100 MHz – into electrical energy and then supply power to low-power consumption IoT sensors and communications equipment or to charge batteries, explains Toyoda Teruyuki, Sony Semiconductor Solutions’ Analog LSI Business Division general manager. The module has to be paired with an MCU or processor to offer a complete IoT solution right with, for instance, Bluetooth capabilities.

He adds that the solution solves energy challenges by generating more power than the conventional radio wave harvester, and there is no need for a dedicated antenna or specific frequencies.

The simplicity of the unit’s design, the company says, makes it a compact and inexpensive solution when compared to other energy harvesting systems such as vibration-, thermal- or solar-based energy. It also boasts ease of installation for manufacturers, Berry says.

Works in Electrical, Noisy, Dark Environments

Some environments ideal for this technology may be industrial settings with little natural light, such as a factory or data center.  Industrial machinery or robots could be used to capture energy as part of the antenna structure.

The company has tested the module in various applications, such as factories and homes, where appliances like TVs, air conditioners, and computers could provide energy and require monitoring.  A smart refrigerator would be an example. Although dark inside, a module could be used there to wirelessly capture noise energy and supply data, such as temperatures. Most sensor applications involve monitoring the conditions of the exact device making the noise.  Another application would be sensing the temperature inside a computer and sending it to a server.

The unit measures seven by seven millimeters and is .2 millimeters thick. It also can be connected to a small battery that stores the power and can be connected to networks using Bluetooth.

The benefit of the wireless, energy harvesting functionality, based on noise, is that the device can be applied to the appliance after it is manufactured, essentially adding intelligence to it that might not have already been in place, SSS reports. Users or developers could also combine the modules together to increase the total power harvested.

The company is selling samples beginning in November and is working with potential customers and partners to find suitable markets now, says Berry. Those partners include device manufacturers who could build the module into their sensor or IoT device. Sony is also working with end users, for which it can provide a complete end-to-end solution.

The early adoption is likely to be in industrial and smart homes but could also be deployed in restaurants, stores, warehouses, or data centers where electrical noise is available. The amount of energy being harvested can also serve as a form of intelligence in cases where the level of electrical noise indicates the health of a piece of equipment.

SSS hopes to have new products available using harvesting technology in about one-and-a-half years. The company is receiving inquiries from all over the world, Berry says.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sony Semiconductor Solutions is preparing to release samples of energy harvesting modules for IoT devices that collect the power of noise.
  • The system will enable IoT solutions to track conditions in dark, electrically noisy environments, including data centers and inside appliances or electronics.