Computer engineers created a new prototyping platform that enables makers to build their own battery-free electronic devices.
Battery-less solutions are already hitting the market. This trend is due to the emerging ultra-low-power devices that can run on intermittent harvested energy. Now, computer engineers from Northwestern University and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) introduce a new platform that enables makers, hobbyists and novice programmers to build their own battery-free electronic devices that run with intermittent, harvested energy.
The platform they built is named BFree, and it includes energy-harvesting hardware and a power-failure-resistant version of Python. Users can build their DIY projects using this platform with a basic understanding of Python.
However, getting rid of the battery is not easy, especially with a prototyping solution. Moreover, when devices bypass the battery and rely on energy harvesting, the power supply is no longer constant. If the sun goes behind a cloud, for example, then solar power might be temporarily disrupted.
The researchers solved this issue and made a device to run perpetually with intermittent energy. When the power gets disrupted, the BFree pauses the calculations and when power returns, it automatically resumes where it left off without losing memory or needing to run through a long list of operations before restarting.
To make this operation seamless, the researchers coded BFree with software to interpret Python programs for battery-free devices. The user only needs to attach the BFree Shield onto the Adafruit Metro M0 maker platform, and then program the device traditionally.
“We wanted to make it totally invisible for the final user,” said Kortbeek, who is a Ph.D. candidate in Pawelczak’s group. “So, we tried to keep the original experience of the device the same without the user seeing how we changed the software to interpret the Python files for battery-free technology.”
“Now everyone can build and program smart, sustainable devices,” Hester, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and computer science at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, said. “This makes the future vision of ubiquitous computing more sustainable, useful and environmentally responsible.”
The research was presented virtually at UbiComp 2021. One can find instructions for how to build and use the new technology on GitHub.