In February 2009, I posted “Voltree Power Harvests Electricity from Trees without Combustion,” describing how Canton, MA based Voltree Power was commercializing a patented technology from MIT to extract energy from trees. Using the pH difference between trees and the soil, a miniscule amount of electricity is produced, which Voltree captures to power wireless mesh networks within forests for agricultural monitoring and early detection of forest fires.
While I liked the novelty of this idea, to be honest, I thought any attempt to actually commercialize wireless sensors running on “tree juice” would likely not succeed. Who would buy such a crazy idea? Well, how about the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forrest Service…
In a recent press release, “Voltree Power Announces First Contract with USDA Forest Service,” the company highlights a major success in deploying their tree-powered mesh network for ambient environmental monitoring. This calm news release is accompanied by a vigorous, ecstatic, and well-deserved rant on the company’s home page about how well their technology performed during this initial trial. Frankly, I would be pretty excited, too, if I managed to convince the Feds to invest in an overgrown potato clock that did a better job than Smokey at preventing forest fires.
This initial success of Voltree’s technology demonstrates one viable solution to the long-standing challenge of powering wireless sensors without batteries. As described in my post, “The Walls are Crawling with Energy,” deploy-and-forget wireless networks are being held up by lack of wireless solutions to deliver power to the sensor nodes. These networks could provide data for applications as diverse as human comfort monitoring for building energy reduction to radiation detection for anti-terrorism operations. So, Voltree’s initial success is a laudable step toward data-rich environments enabled by wireless networks that harvest power from their surroundings.
From home enthusiasts to workers on the manufacturing floor, everyone's imagination is captured by the potential of 3D printing. Prototyping, spare parts creation, art delivery, human organ creation, and even mass product production are all being targeted as current and potential uses for the technology.
Solar and wind energy are becoming more viable as a source of energy on the electric grid. For decades, the major drawback to solar and wind was that they’re temperamental. A cloudy day kills solar and a still day renders the wind turbines useless. Automation tools, however, are providing a path to help these renewables become practical.
In honor of Earth Day, the National Security Agency has launched the STEM Recycling Challenge in Maryland schools to encourage kids to think about where the garbage they throw out every day actually goes. The agency has also introduced “Dunk,” a muscular blue cartoon recycling bin wearing shorts and sneakers.
Samsung's Galaxy line of smartphones used to fare quite well in the repairability department, but last year's flagship S5 model took a tumble, scoring a meh-inducing 5/10. Will the newly redesigned S6 lead us back into star-studded territory, or will we sink further into the depths of a repairability black hole?
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.