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From zero- to superpower

We all want to imagine a superhero here, but this is much more serious stuff. Tiny, yet powerful micro-devices are found in unlikely places. They’re adjusting the ride in our car, sensing volcanic activity, powering critical systems, and increasingly embedded in everyday things like clothes to monitor our health, happiness and, well, lives. But science needs to find a simple, environmentally sustainable way to power them. Zero-powered electronics is the ultimate ICT prize. The flipside of this coin is a growing trend towards more gadgets, more powerful computing and more demand for complex networks, systems and services. A few costly standalone supercomputers exist but heavy-duty number crunching can also be done through distributed solutions like grids and cloud computing. Europe has everything to play for.

Zeroing in on efficient ICTs

Tiny electronics are embedded in our lives, sensing and gathering all manner of information (from climate to health data), monitoring for changes, tracking products… They don’t need a lot of power to run, but even the most efficient still need some. And with billions of them out there (and growing), many in dangerous or unreachable locations, flat batteries are a big problem.

Scientists are working on this from two angles, making the chips and devices more power-efficient and/or finding new ways to cancel out their power needs. Success would mean ICTs that are finally ‘zero-power’. For example, the EU-backed Nanopower project is working on a new class of powering devices or microgenerators that transform enough electricity from the minute vibrations of solid bodies (mechanical noise) to run themselves.

Meanwhile, the Zeropower coordination activity brings together communities interested in energy harvesting and low-power, energy efficient ICTs. For example, project partner NiPS (Noise in Physical System Laboratory) organises, together with Nanopower, a summer school dedicated to ‘Energy harvesting at micro- and nanoscale’. Young researchers, graduate students and post-docs are welcome.