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.
At the Design News webinar on June 27, learn all about aluminum extrusion: designing the right shape so it costs the least, is simplest to manufacture, and best fits the application's structural requirements.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.