Wireless Sensor Networks

Wireless sensor networks are providing tremendous benefit for a number of industries. The ability to add remote sensing points, without the cost of running wires, results in numerous benefits including energy and material savings, process improvements, labor savings, and productivity increases. Powercast takes the capabilities of wireless sensors a step further by allowing them to be powered without wires and without the need to change batteries. Wireless sensors networks are being widely deployed, and Powercast’s technology can provide benefit for many applications including:

Building Automation / Access Control / SecurityBuilding Automation / Access Control / Security
Simplify installation of building automation devices by eliminating wiring/conduit, and reduce on-going maintenance expenses by eliminating battery replacement. Numerous automation items can be powered without wires including occupancy and motion sensors, door locks, and access control card readers.

Energy ManagementEnergy Management
HVAC, lighting, steam, and hot water are major factors in the energy consumed by commercial buildings. Wireless sensors provide additional input into energy management systems that can result in a significant reduction in energy consumption. Maintenance free operation by eliminating battery replacement or completely eliminating batteries.

Smart Grid / Sub-station MonitoringSmart Grid / Sub-station Monitoring
Electric sub-stations have numerous items that can be instrumented with wireless sensors to monitor condition and performance. An RF-based wireless power solution allows sensors for multiple transformers and other items to be powered without wires or batteries, and without the effects of weather conditions, temperature, or time of day.

Industrial MonitoringIndustrial Monitoring
Monitor plant assets and production materials with maintenance-free wireless sensors. Battery replacement in facilities with high labor costs or hazardous environments can be very expensive, even cost prohibitive. Powercast technology enables zero or minimal future maintenance related to the power source.

Structural Health MonitoringStructural Health Monitoring
Both new and aging civil / critical infrastructure needs to be monitored for predictive maintenance and to avoid catastrophic failures. Powercast technology allows critical infrastructure to be monitored without the need to run costly wiring or the future maintenance cost of battery-replacement.

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The power source for wireless sensors has mainly been disposable, primary batteries. However, there are two main challenges with using disposable batteries for wireless sensors - maintaining sensors in hard to service locations, and scaling a sensor network to hundreds or thousands of nodes.

Hard to service locations can add significant cost to the already high replacement cost of batteries for wireless sensors and can even limit where sensors are located, potentially reducing the effectiveness of the overall deployment.

Scaling sensor networks with power supplies that have limited life is an even bigger challenge. To ensure performance, batteries must either be replaced on a regular schedule, resulting in wasted battery life, or users must accept the risk of changing batteries only when a low voltage threshold is indicated. This might work for tens to a few hundred nodes, but the potential maintenance cost of replacing batteries for several hundreds or thousands of nodes becomes a continuous, cost-prohibitive, undertaking. ON World estimates the labor cost for changing batteries in wireless sensors will be greater than $1 billion over the next several years. The disruption and cost of battery replacement is a significant force constraining the growth of wireless sensor networks.

Powercast’s RF energy harvesting technology and wireless power solutions enable wireless sensors to be located in inaccessible or hazardous areas, or locations where battery replacement is highly impractical. With the ability to power multiple devices from a single source, our wireless power infrastructure can enable sensor networks to scale by supplying maintenance-free power for hundreds or thousands of nodes.

Traditional energy harvesting such as solar, piezo, and thermal, share a common limitation of being reliant on ambient sources generally beyond their control. Solar requires light, vibration requires motion, and thermal requires a heat source.

A wireless power solution based on RF energy harvesting overcomes this lack of control because power can be replenished when desired. The impact on wireless sensors is profound. Instead of design and operational constraints for maximizing battery life, devices can be recharged with energy repeatedly and perpetually, enabling greater functionality or more frequent use. Energy storage could be rechargeable batteries, solid state/thin film devices, or capacitors, and the recharge cycle could be continuous, scheduled, on-demand, or passive depending on the application.

Sensors could be made to be inherently dormant, requiring zero stand-by power. When a sensor reading is desired, power can be transmitted until the sensors activate and send their data. This cycle can be repeated indefinitely using advanced energy storage including supercapactor, thin film, or solid state batteries.

Contact us to learn more or discuss your application.