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ECE PhD Dissertation Defense: Vageeswar Rajaram
September 14, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
PhD Dissertation Defense: Near-Zero Power Microelectromechanical Sensors for Large-Scale IoT Sensor Networks
Location: ISEC 432
Abstract: The Internet-of-things revolution has ushered the development of sensing technologies aimed towards establishing large-scale remote sensor networks to monitor the environment continuously and with high spatial resolution. However, with existing sensor technologies this goal has so far been limited in terms of scalability (i.e., the number of sensors in a network, areal coverage and spatial granularity). A major impeding factor is sensor power consumption: state-of-the-art remote sensor technologies need to be actively powered (i.e., by a battery) to continuously monitor the environment for an object of interest, even at standby (when it is not present). This is because all signals collected by the sensor from the environment need to be processed by active signal conditioning circuits to distinguish a signal of interest from other signals. Therefore, in applications where an event or signal of interest occurs only occasionally, most of the battery is drained by processing irrelevant signals. The result is that as the sensor network scales up, so do the costs and labor associated with the sensors’ battery replacements. This makes it unfeasible to deploy and maintain large numbers of sensors for any application and greatly limits the scale of sensor networks. Extremely low power consumption therefore is critical in enabling large sensor networks by reducing or even eliminating costs associated with frequent battery replacements.
This work describes the development of a revolutionary new sensing platform aimed at creating sensors with battery lifetimes limited only by the self-discharge of the battery itself (>10 years). The ultimate goal for the technology is to enable maintenance-free sensor nodes for truly large-scale “deploy-and-forget” sensor networks. In particular, this work details the development of novel infrared sensors based on micro-electro-mechanical photoswitches that are capable of detecting and distinguishing specific infrared signatures associated with objects of interest (hot gases, fire, human body, etc.) while remaining dormant with near-zero power consumption at standby. This unique sensor technology aims to break the paradigm of requiring a power supply to perform sensing by instead relying on the energy contained in the infrared signals emitted by the object of interest itself to perform its detection. This dissertation presents a comprehensive summary of the sensor’s design, its capabilities, and the various technical developments that have led this technology to evolve from a concept to a prototype near-zero power wireless infrared sensor with orders of magnitude lesser power consumption compared to the state-of-the-art.