Researchers at Cork’s Tyndall National Institute are developing mind-blowing next-generation technology.
Looking ahead to the future, Tyndall National Institute teams are developing the technology we need to power and support an increasingly connected world. This is to make our buildings and farms smarter, and enable medical devices that last as long as our lengthening lifespan.
Demonstrated at the Tyndall Technology Days event in Croke Park this month, this is just a sampling of the pioneering work coming out of Cork city.
Vibration energy harvesting
Vibration energy harvesting (VEH) is a process whereby magnetic pull can be converted into power. Given the perception that the near future will be sensor-laden for a multitude of connected devices, VEH offers the opportunity for micro-energy extraction that can satisfy devices in disparate location via transduction.
— Tyndall Institute (@TyndallInstitut) October 11, 2016
At Tyndall, Saibal Roy is head of the group in the microsystems centre and is leading this charge. Having produced research in various journals and books on the subject, Roy’s 2014 work on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) as energy harvesters is one such example of where this industry is ultimately headed: small energy generators embedded throughout the infrastructure of connectivity.
The near-field characterisation techniques, as well as electromechanical modelling and simulation required for the design of energy harvesting transducers, is an ongoing study. At Tyndall, Roy’s group works on design, simulation, modelling, fabrication and characterisation of linear and non-linear electromechanical devices both in mesoscale and MEMS-scale.
The PiezoMEMS team at Tyndall works with piezoelectric materials (materials in which a voltage will build up as a result of force being applied) to develop and enhance smart materials, and to develop and optimise smart MEMS devices.
At Tyndall Technology Days 2016, we caught up with researcher Rosemary O’Keeffe, who talked us through some of the work she’s doing in PiezoMEMS.
Largely, the team’s research falls into two categories: energy harvesting and RF sensing.
The applications are far reaching in both categories. Current uses of piezoelectric materials in energy harvesting include bio implants (eg leadless pacemakers, in which the movement of the heart powers the device) and wireless charging.
RF sensing capabilities can be applied to gases, particles and biosensors.
The Manpower Project team at Tyndall aims to develop a perpetually self-powered electronic system that can be implanted into the human body, and remove the need for battery replacements in pacemakers.
The device will be a supercapattery: a hybrid energy-storage device that combines the high-energy storage capability of conventional batteries with the high-power delivery capability of a supercapacitor.
The stored energy in the supercapattery will be used to drive the pacemaker, delivering the electrical impulses during emergency. It will need to survive for at least 15 years inside the pacemaker.
Integrated magnetics is what will soon revolutionise chip management; with incredibly accurate, minute magnetics replacing wire coil (too bulky, not powerful enough) and air-core (less bulky, still not powerful enough) as a ‘power supply on chip’ (PwrSoC).
Considering the space premium in smartphones, for example, options that can increase power without bulk are essentially follow-ons from Moore’s Law. Or, as Colm Gorey writes, ‘more than Moore’.
With the likes of Paul McCloskey and Santosh Kulkarni leading the charge, Tyndall prides itself as a global leader in this area, referring to integrated magnets on integrated circuits as ‘magic’.
To date, the dedicated Tyndall group has demonstrated highest efficiency for a micro-inductor (93pc), highest efficiency for a micro-transformer (80pc) and ultra-low loss high-flux density-soft magnetic materials (less than half-ferrite power loss density).
— Tyndall Institute (@TyndallInstitut) March 23, 2016
A partner organisation on Powerswipe (PowerSoC with integrated passives), Tyndall is helping to miniaturise and integrate high-density trench capacitor substrate technology with novel, thin film magnetics on silicon. This, it is hoped, will deliver a multi-component inductor-capacitor interposer which will be combined, in a 3D heterogeneous stack, using eWLB technology, with the μController chip.
Access networks are the part of telecoms infrastructure connecting service providers to their customers, and it’s something Irish institutions in general are investigating with gusto.
For example, Tyndall has partnered with Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork to lead an international project called DISCUS (DIStributed Core for unlimited bandwidth supply for all users and services), to investigate broadband improvements across metro, regional, core and access networks.
The €8.1m project’s main aim is to build architecture that’s ultra-energy efficient, simple to operate, robust to new technology introduction, and provides universal availability of bandwidth and features, regardless of geographic location. To do this, optical technologies will play a prominent role.
Traditionally, access networks are switch-heavy due to their tangible make-ups but, should improvements come along as per DISCUS’s plans (which include proving a growth in fibre connections to a factor of 50 in future), dramatic reductions could be made.
Tyndall’s experts in the access networks field include Paul Townsend, Giuseppe Talli and Stefano Porto.
Rather self-explanatory, micro-transfer printing is the process of layering materials on top of each other, similar to how 3D printers work. The ultimate aim of projects in this area is the creation of integrated components of various materials – often in large volumes – on a semiconductor scale.
Combining diverse optical, electronic or other ‘functional’ materials at such a small scale could lead to more compact microchips, just in time for the impending influx of internet of things (IoT) devices.
In this field, Tyndall is currently leading a €5m Horizon 2020 project, with partners including Seagate Technology and Caliopa Huawei. “The key breakthrough will be the application of micro-transfer printing to address the challenge of integrating non-compatible components in large volumes at the semiconductor wafer level, eliminating the need for current inelegant integration processes such as wire-bonding,” said Brian Corbett, principal investigator at Tyndall.
On-farm bovine testing
Niamh Creedon is a PhD student who works with a data nanotechnology group that develops sensors for on-farm disease diagnostics. They are looking at two specific respiratory diseases: bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR).
“Basically, the sensor works in a similar way to a glucometer for a diabetic,” said Creedon, explaining that a drop of blood is placed on the sensor and a result is generated within 15 minutes. By mobilising a variety of proteins on the sensor, the team can detect antibodies in the cow’s blood.
The group uses a system with a specially designed circuit board that can track any increase, which marks a positive test sample.
Lensless Smart Sensors
Within Connect (the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for future networks and communications), the Tyndall team are working with a team at Rambus to develop the next generation of optical sensing systems.
As the IoT world expands, the number of connected devices grows exponentially. Industry estimates vary, but it’s likely that some 21bn devices will be part of the connected world by 2020. Rambus is working on technology that will support that connected world.
A lot of IoT devices rely on sensors, but existing technology is limiting. The current generation of optical sensors requires lenses, but there’s an upper limit to how small a lens can become. Furthermore, the inclusion of lenses makes sensors more expensive and they require more power to operate.
Rambus is currently working on Lensless Smart Sensors (LSSs), which work by “replacing the focusing components with an ultra-miniaturised diffractive optic”, thereby bypassing the issues lenses create.
These LSSs will be a key enabler for wearable imaging systems in IoT. The low-cost phase grating, coupled with standard image sensors and sophisticated computational algorithms, allows the capture of information-rich images in a way that reduces computation time and facilitates long battery life.
The company is currently working on a 3D position-tracking systems for finger and hand location tracking, with a view to developing a head-mounted system for gesture recognition.
Linear burst mode receiver
In our connected world, there is a constant demand – regularly covered in great detail here on Siliconrepublic.com – for better, stronger and faster broadband speeds.
The latest solution for the ramping up of internet speeds is fibre to the home (FTTH). At Tyndall, as part of the Photonic Systems Group, researchers are investigating how to make that FTTH network more stable. Peter Ossieur and Anil Jain are working with linear burst mode receivers, which are devices that are central to the operation of FTTH networks.
Specifically intended for long-reach and high-speed (more than 10Gbps) fibre-optic networks, the receivers will handle upstream internet traffic from a number of different users.
The linearity of this new type of burst mode receiver increases signal stability. By preserving the incoming signal shape, the signal distortion that occurs at high bit rates and long-fibre reaches is countered. As a result, network sizes could increase from the 20km reach we enjoy today to the full targeted reach of 100km.
Photonics integration with PICDraw
Photonics integration is what makes fibre broadband speeds faster, by putting multiple photonic elements – from modulators to splitters – on to a single chip, rather than creating a whole series of transistors.
Putting these various different photonic elements together isn’t just for the sake of simplicity, but rather, each one is a part of a single working unit capable of controlling multiple photonic signals at the same time.
In practical terms, this allows the end user to send information much faster than standard transistors, with the added potential bonus of decreasing a chip’s cost by putting more elements on that chip.
At Tyndall, the design and optimisation of these chips is created with a software package called PICDraw. Constructed in C++, PICDraw allows the user allows to create complex integrated photonic structures from a series of basic building blocks.
Electrochemical energy storage
In a sensor-filled IoT world, we can monitor everything. For example, carbon dioxide sensors can keep tabs on air quality changes as rooms fill with people. Make these sensors smart and, as well as monitoring, they can also make environmental changes to counter the health implications brought on by a lack of fresh air – but only as needed, saving energy and money.
The problem is that sensors of this variety are currently powered by non-rechargeable batteries, and their high-power demands means they have expired within a few months.
“We’re actually developing a battery technology that is optimised to be used with an energy harvester,” said PhD student Tomás Clancy of Tyndall’s solution.
“The energy harvester actually charges the battery on a daily basis, so that means instead of sourcing a battery that lasts, say, five years, a much smaller battery capacity can be used.”
To achieve this, Tyndall researchers like Clancy are designing nanoscale materials and device simulations, guiding their fabrication process. In practice, this hybrid system of an energy harvester and rechargeable battery could make a sensor that lasts 20 years and reduce maintenance costs by a factor of 50.
Energy harvesting solutions for WSN
At Tyndall, one industry-orientated group referred to as ICT4EE is identifying and exploiting ICT opportunities to make large-scale IoT projects much more energy efficient. It is not just new technology, either, as existing equipment in buildings, for example, can be retrofitted to become IoT compatible by deploying wireless sensor networks (WSNs).
One of the greatest challenges facing WSNs in buildings is the need to keep these devices charged, which is where energy harvesting techniques developed at Tyndall come in.
There are a number of leading technologies being developed at the institute, such as an indoor solar harvester capable of harvesting sufficient energy from indoor light to transmit temperature, light and humidity data to a wireless hub.
The second solution is the thermoelectricity powered WSN mote that contains a power management circuit. This generates sufficient operation energy from a 30-degrees Celsius temperature gradient, using off-the-shelf thermoelectric generators.
Other projects include MOSYCOUSIS, a module deployed on a cold-room compressor able to harvest 2MW of energy in a factory environment; and a PV-powered wireless gas meter capable of harvesting sufficient ambient light energy to measure and wirelessly transmit household gas meter data to a local network access point.
RoWBUsT wireless sensor
With the aim of creating a user friendly software tool to power IoT devices in buildings, Tyndall developed RoWBUsT (Robust Wireless sensor for Building Usage Technology).
The tool is designed to not only eliminate the need for batteries to be changed, but will also significantly improve the reliability and reduce the level of maintenance traditionally required for such systems.
Launched at an International Energy Research Centre event last January, RoWBUsT is a user-friendly energy-management solution for buildings that, with further development, could result in increased savings of 10-30pc in energy costs for most buildings, and up to 70pc for older buildings.
Early tests on buildings near Tyndall’s facilities showed that it could have a €3,900/55,000kWh saving on energy costs for the building, if only a 10pc reduction was achieved using RoWBUsT.
Tyndall has also said it is the first known tool for assisting in planning development and deployment of energy-harvesting powered WSN devices in real-life applications.
Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.
Get your early bird tickets now!