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Energy Scavenging for

Mobile and Wireless
Energy harvesting has grown from long-established concepts into devices
for powering ubiquitously deployed sensor networks and mobile
electronics. Systems can scavenge power from human activity or derive
limited energy from ambient heat, light, radio, or vibrations.

fter Alessandro Volta invented the flattening S-curves. Overcoming this trend
battery in 1799, predating Michael requires moving to another energy source. New
Faraday’s dynamo by 32 years, bat- fabrication technologies have recently resulted in
teries provided the world’s first prac- micro fuel cells aimed at recharging handhelds
tical electricity source until the with power plants the size of a candy bar, and
wiring of cities in the late 1800s relegated bat- they promise fuel cells on a chip for powering
teries to mobile applications. Despite vacuum- wireless sensor nodes. Although research proto-
tube electronics’ weight and large associated bat- types exist, laptop-sized plants (30–50 watt-
tery,1 people living in the early 1900s lugged such hours) tend to be too big to directly power with
enormous “portable” radios to microcells and too small for standard fuel cells,
Joseph A. Paradiso picnics and other events off the because their associated chemistry requires sig-
Massachusetts Institute of power grid. As electronics be- nificant overhead in mass. More exotic emerging
Technology Media Laboratory came smaller and required less power technologies exhibit characteristics that
power, batteries could grow force them into niche applications. For example,
Thad Starner smaller, enabling today’s wire- radioactive decay can power batteries that last
Georgia Institute of Technology, less and mobile applications for decades, but they provide low current and
GVU Center explosion. Although economical involve complicated disposal. Furthermore,
batteries are a prime agent devices that burn fuel, such as microturbines and
behind this expansion, they also microengines, potentially pose issues with exhaust,
limit its penetration; ubiquitous computing’s dream heat, noise, thrust, or safety.
of wireless sensors everywhere is accompanied by Ongoing power management developments
the nightmare of battery replacement and disposal. enable battery-powered electronics to live longer.
Figure 1 depicts increases in the performance of Such advances include dynamic optimization of
laptop computers (a mature mobile technology) voltage and clock rate, hybrid analog-digital
on a logarithmic scale relative to a laptop from designs, and clever wake-up procedures that keep
1990. As the graph indicates, battery energy is the electronics mostly inactive. Exploiting renew-
the slowest trend in mobile computing. Although able energy resources in the device’s environment,
new materials are revolutionizing the battery’s however, offers a power source limited by the
form factor, its energy density doesn’t scale expo- device’s physical survival rather than an adjunct
nentially; rather, battery capacity proceeds along energy store. Energy harvesting’s true legacy dates

18 PERVASIVE computing Published by the IEEE CS and IEEE ComSoc ■ 1536-1268/05/$20.00 © 2005 IEEE
Figure 1. Relative improvements in
laptop computing technology from
1990–2003. The wireless-connectivity Disk capacity
1,000 CPU speed
curve considers only cellular standards in
Available RAM

Improvement multiple since 1990

the US, not including emerging, short-
Wireless transfer speed
range 802.11 “hot spots.” The dip marks Battery energy density
the removal of the Metricom network.

to the water wheel and windmill, and

credible approaches that scavenge energy 10
from waste heat or vibration have been
around for many decades. Nonetheless,
the field has encountered renewed inter-
est as low-power electronics, wireless
standards, and miniaturization conspire 1990 1994 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002
to populate the world with sensor net- Year
works and mobile devices. This article
presents a whirlwind survey through
energy harvesting, spanning historic and ically on the order of tens of microwatts. PDA that runs off a panel of solar cells
current developments. For a more detailed Another approach, heralding Nicola lining its case,4 to Citizen’s Eco-Drive
treatment emphasizing human-powered Tesla a century ago and William C. watch, which is powered by a solar cell
systems, see our recent book chapter on Brown 50 years later, involves broad- hidden beneath a translucent dial. Re-
the subject.2 casting RF energy deliberately to power searchers continually strive to refine
remote devices. This practice is now com- solar cell materials and technologies to
Ergs from Maxwell monplace in passive radio-frequency- increase efficiency (today’s best research
With copious radio transmitters scat- identification systems, which derive their devices have reached 34 percent).
tered throughout today’s urban land- energy inductively, capacitively, or radia-
scape, we might consider background tively from the tag reader. Safety and US Thermoelectric conversion
radio signals as a mobile-device power Federal Communications Commission Objects or environments at different
reservoir. Electronic systems that harvest restrictions severely limit available temperatures offer the opportunity for
energy from ambient-radiation sources, power—RFID tags generally consume energy scavenging via heat transfer (the
however, have extremely limited power between 1 and 100 µW. heat engine running in a geothermal
and generally require either a large col- Ambient light presents another oppor- power station is a familiar large-scale
lection area or close proximity to the radi- tunity to scavenge power. The energy example). The Carnot cycle—compris-
ating source. An RF power-scavenging conversion efficiency of relatively inex- ing adiabatic and isothermal opera-
analysis crudely approximates the power pensive crystalline silicon solar cell mod- tions—provides the fundamental limit
density a receiving antenna produces as ules is generally below 20 percent and to the energy obtained from a tempera-
E2/Z0, where Z0 is the radiation resis- closer to 10 percent for flexible amor- ture difference. The Carnot efficiency is
tance of free space (377 ohms) and E is phous silicon panels (standard solar cells (TH – TL)/TH   T/TH, where TL and TH
the local electric field strength in produce roughly 100 mW/cm2 in bright are the low and high temperatures
volts/meter.3 An electric field (E) of 1 sun and 100 µW/cm2 in a typically illu- (degrees Kelvin) across which the ther-
V/m thus yields only 0.26 µW/cm2, and minated office). Accordingly, the lack of mal generator operates. Accordingly,
field strengths of even a few volts per strong, consistent sunlight constrains Carnot efficiencies are limited for small
meter are rare, except when close to a applications. Nonetheless, the estab- T—for example, going from body tem-
powerful transmitter. Although crystal lished products that harness light as an perature (37 degrees Celsius) to a cool
radios derive their energy from broad- energy source span several orders of room (20 degrees Celsius) yields only 5.5
cast signals, the receiving antenna can be magnitude in power. These range from percent. Mechanical products have been
restrictively large unless the set is close solar homes producing kilowatts on a designed to run off the meager energy
to a transmitter, and access to a good bright day, to solar battery chargers for they harvest from ambient thermal
ground is usually required. Even so, a cell phones that purport to produce up to cycling. For example, the ATMOS clock
crystal set’s energy harvest is limited, typ- 2 W of power in direct sunlight, to a harnesses air pressure changes that result



Heat flow Battery Watch movement Heat flow


Booster Adiabatic
(b) integrated circuit Arm case

1.7 mm 2.14 mm

1.27 mm

2.14 mm 2.36 mm
Thermoelectric module

(c) (d)

Figure 2. The Seiko Thermic wristwatch: (a) the product; (b) a cross-sectional diagram; (c) thermoelectric modules; (d) a thermopile
array. Copyright by Seiko Instruments.

from dynamic thermal conditions.5 Re- Applied Digital Solutions’ Thermo Life stimuli are common in many settings but
search into novel thermoelectric and is a thermoelectric generator measuring can vary widely in frequency and ampli-
thermionic materials and the development 0.5 cm2 in area by 1.6 millimeter thick- tude. Inventors have long designed sys-
of new kinds of devices, such as thermal ness. Comprising a dense array of Bi2Te3 tems to harvest this energy, usually by
diodes and micron-gap thermophoto- thermopiles (most efficient at tempera- exploiting the oscillation of a proof mass
voltaics, aspires to improve device perfor- tures of 0 to 100 degrees Celsius) de- resonantly tuned to the environment’s
mance. Energy conversion, however, lim- posited onto thin film, it can generate 10 dominant mechanical frequency.
its available thermopile arrays, which µA at 3 V (6 V open circuit) with only 5 Self-winding watches use the motion
attain efficiencies well under 10 percent for degrees Celsius of temperature difference of the user’s body to wind their mecha-
200 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius, (according to a personal communica- nisms. Abraham-Louis Perrelet created
but below 1 percent for 40 degrees Celsius tion from Ingo Stark of Applied Digi- the first known self-winding pedometer
to 20 degrees Celsius.6 Accordingly, tal Solutions’ Thermo Life Energy watch around 1770, although indica-
thermoelectric generators can deliver sig- Corp.). Accordingly, Thermo Life gen- tions suggest that others might have
nificant power with high-temperature erators can power low-drain biosensor made earlier versions in the 1600s.7
sources (such as a hot exhaust pipe) but electronics when in contact with the skin. Widespread adoption of these systems
are much more limited for wearable appli- These systems typically come with bat- didn’t occur until after the 1930s, when
cations or temperate environments. teries that store extra energy produced watch cases could be hermetically sealed
Nonetheless, companies have intro- during periods of higher T so they can to protect the mechanism from dust. A
duced a few wearable thermoelectric continue to run during warmer, less effi- modern self-winding wristwatch con-
products over the last years. For exam- cient ambient temperatures. tains an approximately 2-gram rotary-
ple, the Seiko Thermic wristwatch (see proof mass mounted off-center on a spin-
Figure 2) uses 10 thermoelectric mod- Vibrational excitation dle. As the user moves during the day, the
ules to generate sufficient microwatts to From the subtle vibrations of floors mass spins and winds the mechanism.
run its mechanical clock movement from and walls that nearby machinery causes Figure 3 shows diagrams of two elec-
the small thermal gradient provided by to the severe excitation of an automobile tronic self-winding watch mechanisms. In
body heat over ambient temperature. chassis or jet engine housing, mechanical the ETA Autoquartz, a proof mass winds

20 PERVASIVE computing

Oscillating Oscillating
weight weight
weight gear
Transmission gear

Stator Rotor Coil

Oscillating weight
Charge control
power supply
Integrated circuit Quartz
Drive circuit
Gear train
Stator Coil

(a) (b)


Figure 3. Commercial inertial-power scavengers. Two mechanisms for self-winding electric watches—(a) the ETA Autoquartz design
and (b) the Seiko AGS (Automatic Generating System) generator for the Kinetic series—and (c) an inertial solenoid generator from
a commercial shake-driven light-emitting-diode flashlight. (diagrams courtesy of the Swatch Group and Seiko Epson)

a spring that pulses a microgenerator at bumpers at each end.8 A typical device’s coils, as in Figure 3. Although some have
its optimal rate of 15,000 rotations per generating mechanism (see Figure 3c) been fabricated at the scale of micro-
minute for 50 ms, yielding 6 mA bursts at weighs 150 grams and produces 200 mW electromechanical systems (MEMS),
greater than 16 V that are integrated on a with a steady shake at its mechanical res- these tend to be larger structures, rang-
storage capacitor. Seiko’s AGS (Automatic onance (roughly 200 cycles/minute). ing from 1 to 75 cm3 (Ferro Solutions’
Generating System) omits the intermediate Driven by strong interest in long-lived Harvester) or more, exploiting vibrations
spring and produces 5 µW on average wireless sensing packages, many groups ranging from 50 Hz to 5 KHz that induce
when the watch is worn and 1 mW when have recently developed vibrational micro- mechanical oscillations between one-half
the watch is forcibly shaken. Similarly, generators. (Paul Mitcheson and his col- micrometer to over one millimeter, and
shake-powered flashlights employ a mag- leagues present a review,9 and we also cite producing powers that range from tens
netic proof mass that passes through a several devices in our book chapter.2) The of microwatts (MEMS) to over a milli-
solenoidal coil, bouncing against rubber basis for many are moving magnets or watt (larger devices).



Figure 4. Two electrostatic generators fabricated in microelectromechanical systems:

(a) a portion of a constant-gap variable capacitor fabricated at MIT for a 1 cm2 device
and (b) a 2 cm2 compressible-plate capacitor fabricated at Imperial College. (figure 4a
photo courtesy of Anantha Chandrakasan and Jeff Lang, MIT Microsystems Technology
Lab; figure 4b photo courtesy of Peng Miao)

data-logging monitors and wireless sen- MIT,16 is a constant-gap variable capac-

sor nodes mounted on large structures.13 itor. The capacitor’s plates are realized
(a) Ocean Power Technologies exploited by the interdigitated tines at the upper
strips of piezoelectric foil to harness the left that slide together and apart in the
power of flowing water, in the form of horizontal plane with applied vibration.
18-inch-long “eels” that flap in turbulent A portion of an 84-mg proof mass is vis-
flow like a flag in the wind.14 Dynamic ible at the lower left, and the structure
strain coupled from the tire of a moving at the lower right is a flexure spring sus-
car has also powered a wireless tire con- pending the comb. The team designed
dition monitor.15 this device to produce 8 µW with half-
Other microgenerators consist of a millimeter comb displacement at 2.5
charged capacitor with moving plates. kHz. Most microgenerators exhibit a
Unlike magnetic and piezoelectric gen- mechanical resonance (often in the kHz
erators, such electrostatic generators range at MEMS scale) where vibration
need to be “jump-started” with an ini- can be efficiently coupled. Because envi-
tial voltage before they can produce ronmental excitation, especially from
power. Because the force between the human motion, can occur over a wide
capacitor’s electrodes increases with the spectrum of generally lower frequencies,
square of the applied voltage, the poten- some researchers have developed non-
tial to do work (and thus generate elec- resonant or tunable microgenerators.
trical energy) correspondingly increases Imperial College’s Peng Miao and his
Other approaches employ piezoelec- as more charge is loaded onto the capac- colleagues have recently realized such a
tric materials. The 1967 US Patent itor, until charge leakage becomes sig- device (see Figure 4b) using a nonreso-
3,456,134 proposed using a small, tip- nificant or mechanical problems occur nant snap-action restoring force on the
loaded piezoelectric cantilever for pow- owing to excess force. Although some proof mass instead of a continuous
ering bioelectric implants, claiming that researchers have developed larger elec- spring. Consisting of three stacked wafers
a prototype device produced 150 µW trostatic generators aiming to exploit and a gold-plated, 0.3-g proof mass, the
when mechanically coupled to 80-Hz low-frequency vibrations in walls or capacitor’s active area is 210 mm2, and
heartbeats.10 Eighteen years later, US wearable applications, electrostatic gen- the plates are capable of a 320 µm maxi-
Patent 4,510,484 proposed a similar erators tend to be small, often MEMS- mum displacement. Measurements have
device for powering wireless sensors in scale devices, where they benefit signifi- yielded up to 300 nanojoules per mechan-
automobile tire hubs.11 Recently, Shad cantly from being able to increase energy ical cycle at 20 Hz (so, 6 µW).
Roundy and his collaborators have devel- density with applied voltage. Accord- A recent analysis indicated that we can
oped a compact piezoelectric generator ingly, developers design them to be driven expect up to 4 µW/cm3 from vibrational
made from a pair of laminated PZT (lead at frequencies ranging from hundreds of microgenerators (of order 1 cm3 in vol-
zirconium titanate) strips to form a tip- hertz to several kilohertz, and, depend- ume) that typical human motion (5 mm
loaded, cantilevered bimorph beam that ing on their excitation and power condi- motion at 1 Hz) stimulates and up to 800
produced nearly 100 µW when shaken tioning, they typically yield on the order µW/cm3 from machine-induced stimuli
at resonance.12 Piezoelectrics that are of 10 µW. Therefore, they’re intended to (2 nm motion at 2.5 kHz).9 As this sur-
bonded to vibrating structural members support extremely low-power applica- passes current devices’ performance by
in bridges, buildings, or aircraft can tions, perhaps sited on the same chip as between one and three orders of magni-
achieve sufficient strain to generate useful the generator. tude, researchers have plenty of room for
energy. Researchers at Sandia National Figure 4 shows two such MEMS-scale improvement.
Laboratories and MicroStrain, for exam- microgenerators. The device in Figure
ple, have recently developed such strain- 4a, which Jeffrey Lang and Anantha Power from human input
based energy harvesters for powering Chandrakasan’s team developed at Another source of batteryless power is

22 PERVASIVE computing

deliberate human input. Inventors have a piezoelectric element with a resonantly date back up to 80 years.21–23 Rotary
found many opportunities here, exploit- matched transformer and conditioning generators’ mechanics, however, are dif-
ing cranking, shaking, squeezing, spin- electronics that, when struck by a but- ficult to integrate reliably into standard
ning, pushing, pumping, and pulling to ton, generated approximately 1 mJ at footwear, as evident in Figure 6, which
power their devices.2 Windup magnetic- 3 V per 15N push, enough power to run shows two MIT-built generator shoes
generator-powered flashlights date to the a digital encoder and a radio that can from the late nineties.24 Although the
early 20th century,17,18 sprouting descen- transmit over 50 feet.20 This device (see sole-integrated generator in Figure 6b
dents such as windup cell phone chargers Figure 5b), built entirely with off-the- was somewhat less cumbersome, both
and radios. In a typical windup radio, shelf components, enables placing com- devices were fragile, as might be expected
such as those FreePlay makes, 60 turns pact digital controllers (such as a light when such complicated mechanics are
(1 minute of cranking) stores 500 joules switch) freely, without needing wiring or mounted in shoe soles.
of energy in a spring, which drives a mag- batteries and their associated mainte- Other approaches that lack moving
netic generator that’s 40 percent efficient, nance. In the US, a NASA-Langley spin- mechanics, such as piezoelectric or capac-
metering out enough power for up to an off is marketing the Lightning Switch, itive generators, are more promising.
hour of play. By analogy, hand-charging another self-powered piezoelectric radio James Antaki and his collaborators at
one of today’s 30–50 W-hr. laptop com- button. The German company EnOcean the University of Pittsburgh presented a
puters would require more than an hour is marketing self-powered radio trans- shoe-mounted piezoelectric generator in
of cranking (and involve a heavy and mitters, energized by a bistable piezo- 1995 that they developed to power arti-
potentially dangerous spring). electric cantilever that snaps when ficial organs.25 Their device incorpo-
Some inventors have developed more pressed, conditioned by a switching reg- rated two cylindrical tubes in the insole,
unusual methods of coupling energy into ulator. Their PTM100 produces about each housing a PZT stack stimulated by
generators. At the MIT Media Lab, Saul 100 µJ per 8N push at 3.3 V. a passive hydraulic pulser-amplifier. The
Griffith’s Bettery—inspired by the Abo- amplifier converted low-frequency foot-
riginal musical instrument, the bull- Ambulatory power generation fall energy into an intense series of high-
roarer—employs a 100–200 gram ball From resting to a fast sprint, the frequency impulses that drove the PZT at
tethered via a 0.3–0.5 m string to a hand- human body expends roughly 0.1–1.5
held generator. Revolving the ball at 1–2 kW.2 The devices mentioned in this arti-
Hz produces 3–5 W, ample power for a cle, however, typically scavenge less than
cell phone call. a milliwatt from human activity before
Robert Adler designed a batteryless, their presence becomes obvious or
wireless remote control for Zenith tele- annoying. The most promising way to
visions in 1956 called the Space Com- extract energy more innocuously from
mander (see Figure 5a). Its lineage is more people is by tapping their gait. Humans
than a century old, in conveyances such typically exert up to 130 percent of their
as the desk bell. It featured a set of but- weight across their shoes at heel strike
tons that struck aluminum rods to pro- and toe-off, and standard jogging sneak-
duce ultrasound, which, when decoded ers’ cushioned soles can compress by up
at the television, turned on the power, to a centimeter during a normal walk.
changed channels, or muted the vol- For a 154-pound person, this indicates
ume.19 Active infrared remote controls that about 7 W of power could be avail-
replaced the Space Commander more able per foot at a 1-Hz stride from heel
than 25 years after Adler designed it. strike alone. (a)
Joe Paradiso and Mark Feldmeier Patents for electric shoes, based mostly
took this theme further in 2001 by using on shoe-integrated magnetic generators,

Figure 5. Self-powered wireless pushbutton remote controls: (a) A 1956 Zenith Space
Commander, a passive ultrasound transmitter, and (b) the MIT Media Lab’s self- (b)
powered wireless switch, which sends a digitally coded radio frequency stream.



(a) (b)

Figure 6. Magnetic generators in shoes at the MIT Media Lab: (a) A strap-on overshoe produced an average of 250 mW during a
standard walk, powering a loud radio; (b) an assembly hosting twin motor-generators and step-up gears embedded directly into a
sneaker’s sole (without springs or flywheels for energy storage) produced 60 mW.

its mechanical resonance. The hydraulic version of this approach using a MEMS- a bimorph stave made from 16 layers
reservoir was differentially compressed fabricated, active hydraulic valve.26 (two 8-layer laminates sandwiching a 1
during heel strike and toe-off, so power Figure 7 shows a simple integration of mm neutral core) of piezoelectric PVDF
was extracted across the entire gait. piezoelectric elements beneath a stan- (polyvinylidine flouride) foil. Owing to
Although the prototype was somewhat dard running sneaker’s removable insole. limited electromechanical conversion
bulky and heavy, the shoe contained the Joe Paradiso’s team at MIT built the shoe efficiency, the average power harvested
entire generator. Walking produced aver- in 1998 and refined it in 1999.24 The was small (8.3 mW at the heel and 1.3
age powers of 250–700 mW (depending shoe scavenged energy from heel strike mW at the toes during a standard walk).
on the user’s gait and weight), and a sim- by flattening a clamshell made from two However, there was no interference with
ulated jog produced over 2 W. MIT’s back-to-back Thunder PZT/spring-steel gait, and the piezoelectric elements were
Nesbitt Hagood has pursued a modern unimorphs and from toe-off by bending effectively hidden in the shoe. Each shoe
produced sufficient energy to transmit a
12-bit ID code via an onboard radio to
the local area as the wearer walked.
Intrinsic material properties limit piezo-
electric generators’ efficiency, whereas
running capacitive generators at a higher
voltage can improve their performance.
To take advantage of this property, Ron
Pelrine and his collaborators at SRI
International have developed electro-
static generators based around materi-
(a) (b)

Figure 7. Integration of (a) a flexible PZT
Thunder clamshell and (b) a 16-layer
bimorph polyvinylidine flouride bimorph stave
Insole under (c) the insole of a running shoe,
Metal Sole
midplate resulting in (d) operational power-
harvesting shoes with heel-mounted
PZT unimorph Polyvinylidine flouride stave electronics for power conditioning,
(c) (d) energy storage, an ID encoder, and a
300-MHz radio transmitter.

24 PERVASIVE computing

als called electroactive polymers or Matthew Laibowitz and Joe Paradiso added nodes are symbiotic objects that
dielectric elastomers. Made from com- have recently explored a means of har- people carry (such as pens)—the sensor
ponents such as silicone rubber or soft vesting translational energy and local and communications suite is appended
acrylics, these materials are extremely navigational intelligence for mobile sen- to the device’s user-attracting functions
compliant—a displacement of 2–6 mm sor networks. Inspired by nature’s and travels with it. Although the current
can easily drive them to 50–100 percent process of phoresis, they’ve looked at the active and passive devices are too large
area strain, depending on the generator’s way small organisms (such as ticks, to innocuously attach to people and ani-
configuration. So, they’re ideal substi- nematodes, remoras, and burrs) hitch mals, they’re amenable to vehicular hosts.
tutes for a running shoe’s rubbery heel. rides on other animals.28 In what they
They can also be efficient, with a practi- term parasitic mobility, these nodes
cal device achieving energy densities of require no complicated, massive, or

0.2 J/g and calculations indicating a pos- power-hungry systems to move around lthough many different tech-
sibility of approaching 1.5 J/g. and navigate—they need only a means of niques are available to harvest
The SRI team has built an elastomer detecting and attaching to hosts and energy from various environ-
generator into a boot heel (see Figure 8). locating themselves as they move. Simu- ments to power electronics,
When the heel presses down, the bellows lations have indicated that although per- the amount of available raw energy (for
compress, applying pressure to the elas- formance depends on appropriate hosts’ example, sunlight, vibration, heat) and
tomer membrane. The membrane bal- density and behavior along with the the surface area or net mass that the
loons into the holes in the frame, pro- node’s requirements for detecting hosts device permits limit the power yield in
ducing strain, and when voltage is applied and attaching, this technique is at least pervasive computing’s everyday habi-
across the electrodes, it produces power. an order of magnitude more energy effi- tated settings. With the exception of
They’ve achieved an energy output of 0.8 cient than driving a robotic body directly heel-strike harvesting in electric shoes or
J per step with this boot with a heel com- to a destination. They’ve built proof-of- solar cells in bright light, available pow-
pression of only 3 mm, yielding 800 mW concept hardware to explore four para- ers generally hover at mW or µW levels
of power per shoe at a pace of two steps sitic mobility modes. Active attachment (see Table 1). Nonetheless, researchers
per second.27 Benchtop testing indicated nodes, like nature’s ticks, launch them- are striving to marry more miserly power
that the material will last for at least selves at a nearby host and detach when management techniques with electron-
100,000 cycles. However, the team they’re either at their goal location or are ics that consume less energy, enabling
believes that improved packaging and moving in the wrong direction. Passive embedded devices to conduct more useful
design can increase the lifetime beyond 1 nodes, like nature’s burrs, stick to the operations with the limited power that
million cycles—enough to meet commer- next object that they come in contact they can commonly scavenge. Accord-
cial footwear’s required lifetime. As more with (quasipassive nodes can shake off ingly, energy harvesting is an area of rapid
compression is feasible in a commercial when they want to leave the host). Value- development, and the day approaches
shoe, they anticipate being able to extract
1 W of power, allowing for a 50 percent
voltage conversion (from several kilo-
volts to 3 V) and storage efficiency.

Figure 8. An electrostatic generator based

on compression of a charged dielectric
elastomer during heel strike: (a) a
prototype implementation in a boot and
(b) detail of the generator, showing the
bellows on the bottom and the retaining
frame on top. (photos courtesy SRI
(a) (b)



Energy-harvesting opportunities and demonstrated capabilities.
Energy source PerformanceA Notes

Ambient radio frequency < 1 µW/cm2 Unless near a transmitter3

Ambient light 100 mW/cm2 (directed toward bright sun) Common polycrystalline solar cells are 16%–17% efficient,
100 µW/cm2 (illuminated office) while standard monocrystalline cells approach 20%.
Although the numbers at left could vary widely with a
given environment’s light level, they’re typical for the
garden-variety solar cell Radio Shack sells (part 276-124).
Thermoelectric 60 µW/cm2 Quoted for a Thermo Life generator at T = 5CB; typical
thermoelectric generators  1% efficient for T < 40C.6
Vibrational 4 µW/cm3 (human motion—Hz) Predictions for 1 cm3 generators.9 Highly dependent on
microgenerators 800 µW/cm3 (machines—kHz) excitation (power tends to be proportional to 3 and y02,
where  is the driving frequency and y0 is the input
displacement), and larger structures can achieve higher
power densities. The shake-driven flashlight of Figure 3,
for example, delivers 2 mW/cm3 at 3 Hz.
Ambient airflow 1 mW/cm2 Demonstrated in microelectromechanical turbine at 30
Push buttons 50 µJ/N Quoted at 3 V DC for the MIT Media Lab Device.20
Hand generators 30 W/kg Quoted for Nissho Engineering’s Tug Power (vs. 1.3 W/kg
for a shake-driven flashlight).2
Heel strike 7 W potentially available (1 cm deflection Demonstrated systems: 800 mW with dielectric elastomer
at 70 kg per 1 Hz walk) heel,26 250–700 mW with hydraulic piezoelectric actuator
shoes,24 10 mW with piezoelectric insole.25
AThese numbers depend heavily on the ambient excitation and harvesting technologies. By comparison, lithium-ion batteries can yield up to 0.52

W-hr./cm3 (0.18 W-hr./g), and the Toshiba DMFC (direct methanol mini fuel cell) achieves 0.27 W-hr./cm3. The theoretical energy available from
methanol is 4.8 W-hr./cm3 (6.1 W-hr./g).
BQuoted by Ingo Stark of Applied Digital Solutions’ Thermo Life Energy Corp.

when component life rather than battery Experiences and Measurements with a Solar tors,” J. Microelectromechanical Systems,
charge will limit low-duty-cycle sensor Powered Personal Digital Assistant (PDA),” vol. 13, no. 3, 2004, pp. 429–440.
Proc. 17th European Photovoltaic Solar
systems. Energy Conf., ETA-Florence and WIP- 10. Piezoelectric Energy Converter for Elec-
Munich, 2001, pp. 658–662. tronic Implants, US patent 3,456,134,
Patent and Trademark Office, 1969.
5. J. Lebet, Living on Air—History of the
ATMOS Clock, Jaeger-LeCoultre, 1997. 11. D. Snyder, Piezoelectric Reed Power Sup-
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26 PERVASIVE computing

14. G. Taylor and S. Kammann, “Experimental
and Theoretical Behavior of Piezoelec-
the AUTHORS software
tric/Electrostrictive ‘Eel’ Structures,” DARPA
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Nowak, ed., 2000;

15. Vehicular Mounted Piezoelectric Genera-

Joseph A. Paradiso is the
Sony Career Development
Associate Professor of Media
Arts and Sciences and director
of the Responsive Environ-
ments Group at the Massa-
tor, US patent 4,504,761, Patent and Trade- chusetts Institute of Tech-
mark Office, 1985. nology Media Laboratory.
His research interests include sensor systems for
16. S. Meninger et al., “Vibration-to-Electric human-computer interfaces and ubiquitous com-
Energy Conversion,” IEEE Trans. Very puting. He received his PhD in physics from MIT
Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Systems, vol. as a K.T. Compton Fellow. He’s a member of the
9, no. 1, 2001, pp. 64–76. IEEE, ACM, AIAA, APS, OSA, Sigma Xi, Tau Beta
Pi, and Eta Kappa Nu. Contact him at MIT Media
17. Self Contained Generating and Lighting Laboratory, 20 Ames St. E15-327, Cambridge,
Unit, US patent 1,184,056, Patent and MA 02139;;
Trademark Office, 1916.

18. Magneto Flash Light, US patent 1,472,335, Thad Starner is an assistant

Patent and Trademark Office, 1923. professor of computing at
Georgia Tech's GVU Center,
19. R. Adler, P. Desmares, and J. Spracklen, where he directs the contex-
“Ultrasonic Remote Control for Home tual-computing group. His
Receivers,” IEEE Trans. Consumer Elec- research interests include IEEE Software magazine is building
tronics, vol. 28, no. 1, 1982, pp. 123–128. mobile computing, human-
computer interaction, and
the community of leading software
20. J. Paradiso and M. Feldmeier, “A Compact, computational perception. He received his PhD practitioners by delivering practi-
Wireless, Self-Powered Pushbutton Con- from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
troller,” Ubicomp 2001: Ubiquitous Com- Media Laboratory. He’s a member of the IEEE, cal, peer-reviewed information to
puting, LNCS 2201, Springer-Verlag, 2001, ACM, and, because of this article, the National
pp. 299–304. Association of Watch and Clock Collectors. Con-
developers and managers who want
tact him at 85 5th St. NW, College of Computing, to keep up with today’s rapid tech-
21. Electric Shoe, US patent 1,506,282, Patent Georgia Tech, Atlanta, GA 30332-0760; thad@
and Trademark Office, 1924.; nology change.

22. Shoe with Internal Foot Warmer, US patent

4,674,199, Patent and Trademark Office, Don’t miss this year’s
1987. special issues, including:
Applications of Smart Structures Tech-
23. Dynamoelectric Shoes, US patent 5,495,682, nologies, Proc. SPIE, vol. 4698, Int’l Soc.
Optical Eng., 2002, pp. 254–270.
Patent and Trademark Office, 1996. POSTMODERN
24. N.S. Shenck and J.A. Paradiso, “Energy 28. M. Laibowitz and J.A. Paradiso, “Parasitic SOFTWARE DESIGN
Scavenging with Shoe-Mounted Piezo- Mobility for Pervasive Sensor Networks,” •
electrics,” IEEE Micro, vol. 21, no. 3, 2001, to be published in Proc. 3rd Ann. Conf. Per-
pp. 30–42. vasive Computing (Pervasive 2005), ASPECT-ORIENTED
Springer-Verlag, 2005. PROGRAMMING
25. J.F. Antaki et al., “A Gait-Powered Autol- •
ogous Battery Charging System for Artifi- 29. A.S. Holmes et al., “Axial-Flow Microtur-
cial Organs,” ASAIO J., vol. 41, no. 3, bine with Electromagnetic Generator: PROJECT MANAGEMENT
1995, pp. M588–M595. Design, CFD Simulation, and Prototype
Demonstration,” Proc. 17th IEEE Int’l •
26. O. Yaglioglu, “Modeling and Design Con- Micro Electro Mechanical Systems Conf. INCORPORATING COTS
(MEMS 04), IEEE Press, 2004, pp.
siderations for a Micro-Hydraulic Piezo-
electric Power Generator,” master’s thesis,
Dept. Electrical Eng. and Computer Science,
Massachusetts Inst. of Technology, 2002. IEEE

27. R.D. Kornbluh et al., “Electroelastomers:

Applications of Dielectric Elastomer Trans-
ducers for Actuation, Generation, and For more information on this or any other comput-
Smart Structures,” Smart Structures and ing topic, please visit our Digital Library at www.
Materials 2002: Industrial and Commercial
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