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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 15, 2010 at 4:45 PM

UW team develops sensors with 50-year batteries

Researchers at the University of Washington and colleagues at Georgia Institute of Technology have figured out a way to make electronic sensors run for perhaps 50 years on a single battery.

They’re starting a company to commercialize the invention, which is already attracting potential customers.

“We’re moving pretty quickly,” said principal investigator, Shwetak Patel, an assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering.

The key discovery was figuring out how to use the copper wiring inside a house as an antenna to transmit information from the sensors, which could be used by medical devices or home automation systems.

A prototype placed within 10 to 15 feet of electrical wiring is able to send data to a base station plugged anywhere in the home. Testing in a 3,000-square-foot home found only 5 percent of the house was out of the system’s range.

Patel said that power consumption has held back the use of sensors in the home. But the antenna system could enable the sensors to run effectively forever on a single battery — perhaps 50 years.

“Basically the battery will start to decompose before it runs out of power,” he said in the release.

Patel’s previous venture, a company called Zensi developing energy monitoring systems, was sold to Belkin in April.

Proceeds from that deal are providing seed funding for the new company, which doesn’t yet have a name. Patel, 28, said the company will be based in Seattle and run by others. He wants to continue teaching.

In this UW photo by Gabe Cohn, wiring wrapped around the sensor acts as a broadcast antenna while the household wiring serves as the receiving antenna.

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Comments | More in | Topics: Startups

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