Wireless Sensors

KCF research programs in the area of Energy Harvesting Wireless Sensors push the state of the art in enabling assets to be made smart through the integration of very low power wireless sensors that are powered via energy from the environment.

research sensor node

KCF Technologies has developed an ultra-efficient ambient vibration energy harvesting and storage system for tag track and locate applications. The primary solution is based on the integration of electro-active polymer materials tunable within microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) structures. This is done by using softer electro-active materials to achieve lower frequencies to harvest from ambient vibration and by increasing the efficiency of energy capture by using an innovative tuning method. This technology is utilized by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to detect chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and their precursors.

Funding source: Defense Threat Reduction Agency SBIR DTRA102-004

Although traditional HUMS (Health and Usage Monitoring Systems) can monitor the health of some helicopter components, rotor components are not included in traditional HUMS systems and a unified method for associating the current condition and past history with these particular parts is not possible. KCF Technologies’ approach to addressing this need is to utilize miniature wireless load monitoring sensors that are located on each component. Directly measuring the component loading provides highly accurate information for assessment of the component health. Power harvesting at the sensor nodes will also be used to eliminate the need for batteries, a highly undesirable power source for helicopter sensors.

Funding source: US Naval Air Systems Command SBIR N08-006

Reducing maintenance requirements and extending the life of military equipment are Navy-wide needs. For Navy rotorcraft, cost and maintenance savings are realized by improving the assessment of the health of dynamic components and management of their past, current, and projected life. Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS) are addressing this need for some components on rotorcraft. Current HUMS monitor only the most life critical components because of installation costs, weight, complexity, and possibility of wire failure. Wireless sensing is an emerging technology that is enabling cost reduction and increased sensing for military and industrial needs. However, batteries render the solutions infeasible because of weight and maintenance concerns. KCF Technologies has developed vibration power harvesting devices for self-powered sensors using single-crystal piezoelectric materials.

Funding source: US Naval Air Systems Command SBIR N07-076

While wireless sensor development has traditionally focused primarily on consumer and commercial markets, its application in industrial markets is generally more technically challenging due to the need for a higher level of robustness and tolerance to harsh environment conditions. Large scale deployment of wireless sensors in power plants had been limited due to temperature control of electronics, high temperature tolerance of energy harvesters, reliability supplying voltage to the sensors, and energy harvester mechanical robustness. KCF Technologies has developed a way to enable continuous wireless vibration monitoring implemented onto high-temperature pieces of power plant equipment. Furthermore, these robust, high-temperature energy harvesters can power sensors with no outside power other than the thermal and vibrational energy they convert to electricity.

Funding source: US Department of Energy SBIR 2010

KCF Technologies has developed Broadband Vibration Power Harvesting devices to enable the Navy's distributed wireless sensor systems. Building on KCF’s ongoing work in low-cost vibration power harvesting for industrial wireless sensors, a primary technological advance is the development of a harvester with “broadband” performance over unknown or changing vibration sources. The power harvester is an enabling component of RLW Inc.’s S5NAPTM­ wireless sensor. The target application is thermal management of distributed HVAC heat exchange components. This technology helps to expand the deployment of wireless sensors on Navy shipboard systems for health monitoring, advanced fault detection, manpower reduction, and more.

Funding source: US Naval Sea Systems Command SBIR N06-T020

Vibration power harvesting devices, which greatly enhance the performance and decrease the life cycle cost of wireless sensor networks, tends to grow proportionally with the wireless sensor market. One application for wireless sensors is the monitoring of industrial machines. To gain wide adoption with industrial wireless sensors, vibration power harvesting devices have met three user-defined needs: low cost, appropriate packaging to fit with existing wireless sensor nodes, and sufficient power output from very low structural vibrations. KCF Technologies has developed power harvesters that meet these criteria.

Funding source: US Department of Energy SBIR 2004

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