DARPA's new smart sensor is powered by the infrared it's designed to detect

darpa northeastern infrared sensor 36820281 l
Ivan Smuk/123RF
Researchers at Northeastern University have developed a next generation smart sensor for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that is capable of identifying infrared (IR) wavelengths — without having to have its own always-present power source. Instead, it is powered by the same infrared wavelengths it’s designed to look for. The sensor was developed as part of DARPA’s Near Zero Power RF and Sensor Operation (N-ZERO) program and could be used for a wide range of things, including detecting approaching human bodies or fuel-burning cars, identifying wildfires before they become uncontrollable, or pairing with laser sources for new types of remote control and communication applications.

“In this work, we developed first-of-their-kind infrared digitizing sensors that do not consume any power in standby when the signal of interest is not present,” Matteo Rinaldi, an associate professor with the Northeastern Sensors and Nano Systems Laboratory, who worked on the project, told Digital Trends. “Upon exposure to specific wavelengths of infrared radiation, the sensor absorbs the energy contained in the IR signal itself and uses it to trigger an output wakeup signal.”

darpa northeastern infrared sensor zero power spectrum analysis

The sensors are based on tiny mechanical switches that are triggered by specific wavelength of lights. When this happens, they utilize the energy contained in these wavelengths to mechanically close a pair of electrical contacts, creating a low-resistance electrical connection between a battery and a load. Through some clever design of the sensor’s metallic nanostructures, the device is able to absorb almost all of the energy contained in a specific wavelength, while reflecting other wavelengths. When an infrared signal of interest is not present, the switch contacts instead remain open and no power is consumed whatsoever. In this way, it could remain dormant for years before springing to life to detect an object.

Sensors such as this are interesting because they can be placed anywhere, without concern for a source of power or even access to other forms of energy, such as solar. The deployment of these zero-power sensors open up new possibilities for smart sensors being embedded into the environment. The result could be greater levels of real-time information gathered concerning environmental stressors, security threats, mobility, traffic, indoor and outdoor air quality and pollution patterns, and much, much more. It’s no wonder DARPA is interested.

A paper describing the research was recently published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Emerging Tech

Google plots radar-sensing tech that could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.

Sony is showing something off at MWC -- will it be the Xperia XZ4?

Sony may have released the Xperia XZ3 in the past few months, but already it's preparing to release a follow-up, the Xperia XZ4. We're learning plenty about the phone now some details have started to leak out, and it's getting exciting.
Product Review

Kwikset Kevo Contemporary review

Tired of carrying around keys? Make keyless entry so easy that all you have to do is have your phone nearby to open the door. It’s a little pricey, but sleek lines and simple features make the Kwikset Kevo Contemporary a great choice for…
Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.