New self-powered sensor networks on the horizon
Scientists at the University of Southampton are undertaking research leading to intelligent sensor networks which could accelerate developments in biometrics, health care and other fields.
A team at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), led by Professor Neil White, has been awarded a £400,000 Platform Grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to explore new directions in the field of intelligent sensors.
The team will investigate potential in four key areas: wearable, self-powered sensors; novel biometric systems; intelligent, energy-aware wireless sensor nodes, and intelligent sensors in healthcare.
Professor White commented: 'The future of intelligent sensors lies in the integration of state-of-the art developments in both electronics and computer science and the Platform Grant will allow us to address advanced aspects of sensor technologies.'
This project has particular significance for the field of biometrics, where the researchers have already used polymer thick-film sensors to identify people by the way they tap out rhythms on a keypad. They now propose to develop a smart keypad to develop this work further.
Professor White noted: 'Security is a major application area for smart environments, particularly in the field of biometrics where an individual is identified by a behavioural or physiological feature. In order to fully assess the effectiveness of our earlier research, we will need to develop an intelligent keypad, which is able to measure the force and timing information related to each key press, analyse an individual's characteristic signature and transmit secure data.'
The ECS team has 25 years experience in developing intelligent sensors. The challenge now is to develop networks of low-power wireless sensors which can operate autonomously in uncertain environments, respond to changing environmental conditions and carry out automated diagnosis and recovery.
The researchers will also seek to develop intelligent energy-aware sensor nodes capable of harvesting power within the environment through the use of photovoltaic cells and vibration generators integrated within a network. Their quest to develop human-powered microgenerators, which are operated by the natural movement of the body, could also make self-powered heart pacemakers a reality and make it possible for people to wear human-powered devices.
The team of investigators, which will work on this project for three years, is based in the ECS Electronic Systems Design and the Grid and Pervasive Computing research groups and includes Professor Bashir Al-Hashimi, Professor David De Roure, Dr Paul Chappell, Dr Nick Harris and Dr Steve Beeby.