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Powering the Internet of Things for environmental monitoring


Professor Guang Zhu

Researchers from the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) recently developed a high-performance nano-energy device that enables a network of wireless sensors to work autonomously. This new energy technology potentially solves the power-supply challenges that face long-term environmental monitoring and marine surveillance. It makes the concept of the “Internet of Things (IoT)” a real-world solution for environment sensing and monitoring.

The self-powered device was developed by Professor Guang Zhu - a Li Dak Sum Chair Professor in Nanomaterials and Devices at UNNC - and his research team. The device his team developed can produce stable electrical output from unpredictable water waves and could power autonomous wireless sensing networks, enabling an Internet of Things for the Environment.

The Internet of Things (IoT) could herald a “smart” future that would see objects talk to each other. For example, with a sensor inserted, a toothbrush could collect dental health data, monitor health and possibly even trigger alerts about early symptoms of disease. In this process, sustainable power supply is essential to enable the sensing network.

Battery replacement could be a solution to continual power supply, if within a limited scope. However, in the context of environmental monitoring for oceans and forests, battery replacement would be impossible on such a scale. A key challenge thus faces environmental monitoring is to ensure the standalone sensors sustainably powered without any maintenance required.

With a strong background in nano-energy technologies, Professor Guang Zhu is a pioneer in the development of self-powered technology by extracting energy from ambient environment. Professor Zhu’s research allows standalone sensor nodes to generate electrical energy by converting the mechanical energy from water waves in an efficient and sustainable way. This paves the way for self-powered sensors that can detect and communicate changes in its environment, thus potentially creating an IoT for environmental sensing. “It is already within our reach,” said Professor Zhu.

Having created prototype devices in the lab, Professor Zhu is now working with industry partners to move this cutting-edge technology from lab to land. With support from the University, a partnership is being established with Ningbo Environmental Monitoring Centre to provide solutions for water quality testing and monitoring in regional waters. “This partnership allows me to fully understand the practical needs from an application perspective,” said Professor Zhu. “I hope that with this opportunity, an IoT for the Environment, will become reality in Ningbo, making the city smart, safe and sustainable.”

Other potential applications for the technology currently being explored include health monitoring and enhancing the performance of intelligent robots. To learn more about Professor Guang Zhu and his research profile, please click here.

Posted on 7 June 2018