IoT or the Internet of Things presents devices with a collection of components for connecting various systems, software, and people via the Internet technology. Of these, the communications network is a crucial component, and the IoT wireless technology enables this. The communications network acts as the gateway between a software platform and an IoT device.
In many industries and even in daily life, the IoT is already displaying a major impact. IoT basically connects a variety of smart objects of different shapes and sizes, facilitating data exchange between them. These objects can be self-driven cars with sensors that can detect road obstacles, home-security systems, and temperature-controlled industrial equipment. Furthermore, the interconnection is often over the internet and other communications and sensing networks.
Several thin-film device technologies are emerging. They typically rely on alternative semiconductor materials, which can be nanocarbon allotropes, printable organics, and metal oxides. As suggested by an international team, KAUST, these could contribute to a more environmentally sustainable and economical Internet of Things.
By the next decade, expect the ballooning hyper-network of IoT to reach trillions of devices. This will boost the number of sensor devices this platform deploys.
The present IoT technology relies heavily on batteries to power sensor nodes. Unfortunately, batteries require regular replacement. That makes them environmentally harmful and expensive over time. Moreover, the present global production of lithium for battery materials may be unable to keep up with the increasing numbers of sensors and their energy demand.
An alternative approach relies on energy harvesters and wirelessly powered sensor nodes for achieving a more sustainable IoT. These energy harvesters may be radio-frequency-based, photovoltaic cell-based, or use other technologies. Such power sources could readily enable large-area electronics.
The KAUST team has assessed the viability of several large-area electronic technologies for their potential of delivering wirelessly powered IoT that is more eco-friendly.
Relative to conventional technologies based on silicon, large-area electronics are now emerging as an appealing alternative. This is because of the significant progress that solution-based processing is making, resulting in easily printable devices and circuits on flexible, large-area substrates. It is possible to produce them at low temperatures and on a variety of biodegradable substrates like paper. That allows more eco-friendly sensors in comparison to counterparts based on silicon.
The KAUST team has, over the years, been developing a wide range of radio-frequency-based electronic components. These include organic polymer and metal oxide-based semiconductor devices commonly known as Schottky diodes. For making wireless energy harvesters, these devices are very crucial, ultimately dictating the cost and performance of sensor nodes.
The KAUST team has been making key contributions that have included scalable methods of manufacturing RF diodes for harvesting energy. These diodes easily reach the 5G/6G frequency ranges. According to the team, these technologies are providing the necessary building blocks to sustain a trend towards a more sustainable way of powering the future billions of sensor nodes.
Currently, the team is investing in the integration of low-power monolithic devices with sensors and antennae for showcasing their true potential.