Breakthrough for self-sufficient data sensors?

Annual shipments of wireless sensors that can harvest and generate the power they need to keep running could quadruple by 2015.

You know all those wireless sensors you're thinking about installing in your headquarters building to keep tabs on temperature and lighting levels? Who's going to change all those batteries?

Sensors that collect information about temperature, humidity, security, machine health, building health and more proliferating at rapid rate, as businesses and government agencies get smarter about collecting data that can make their operations smarter and more efficient. Sensors are a vital part of what is powering the so-called "Big Data" movement.

But maintaining the batteries for thousands and thousands of wireless sensors scattered through buildings, campuses and other environments is a far less appealing economic proposition.

That's why Pike Research is predicting a breakthrough for sensors that use energy harvesting techniques to keep themselves powered up. Sales of wireless sensor technologies that can self-generate the power they need to stay running and doing their job over extended periods of time are expected to quadruple between now and 2015, according to the firm's "Energy Harvesting" report.

Energy harvesting is the process of using ambient energy sources to create electricity. Among the generation technologies that are being used for this purpose are solar, thermoelectric, piezoelectric (which uses touch or pressure to create the charge) and electromagnetic.

Pike Research predicts that shipments and deployments of sensors that harvest their own energy will grow by a compound annual growth rate of 38 percent, reaching annual shipments of 235.5 million units by 2015. The baseline shipment figure for 2012 is 53 million units.

The biggest market for these sensors lies in industrial applications, according to the research firm. Growth in that sector will exceed 100 percent during that same time period, Pike Research said.

"Devices in settings with thousands of sensors that are diligently working to bring us information about temperature, humidity, security, machine health, structural health and many other forms of data are becoming increasingly pervasive," said Pike Research analyst Bob Gohn. "In many of these applications, maintaining batteries is a major logistical and cost issue. Viable energy harvesting technology exists today, and developers are fast becoming familiar with how to implement it into ever more-innovative devices."

Aside from their homes in plants, warehouses and other industrial settings, sensors capable of energy harvesting will be important for mobile phones, remote controls, portable lighting and wristwatches, according to the Pike Research report.

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