Nature Inspired Technology

My post on the nanotube radio reminded me of a thought I had a few days before I saw that radio. That thought was: RFID, especially the passive variety, is a cool step forward to creating highly energy efficient technology. In that case the RFID tags are small, compact, and are powered by their antenna. They pick up the signal from the reader and that signal creates a current across the antenna and the circuits ground. This can be used to both power an IC and as the communications channel. This was awesome news to me when I first heard it because that means that the only power footprint for the system is the main transceiver that reads the RFID tags. This can also be applied to other electronic devices that don’t need to communicate via radio waves. Anything that doesn’t need much power can be powered by the radio waves in the air. All that is needed is an appropriate antenna, a rectifier, and a smoothing capacitor. This would create a fairly small amount of current that might be able to power some very energy efficient electronics.

If we look at biology, we can see that biological systems are very sensitive and receptive to electromagnetic fields that can take some real work, on our part, to detect. The brain actually harnesses its own EEG to coordinate the firing of fairly distant brain regions, as researchers at MIT have shown. It would be awesome if we could build technology that operated using EMF levels similar to those found in biological systems, mostly because they would use very little energy. The possible side-effect is that we could discover that low energy devices open new possibilities for design, like opening up the possibility of creating designs that synchronize different parts like the brain does.

There will be definite design challenges that will be inherent in very low energy devices because of the sensitivity. The major benefit of electronics as we now know it is the robustness and well defined behavior they exhibit. This could all vanish in low energy devices. The electronics might get down to the point where we might be working with single electrons that exhibit quantum behavior. Of course, nature got around this by using an incredible synthesis of electro-mechano-chemistry. Perhaps we might do the same thing. Except we would need to figure out how to make it work faster than chemistry normally works. I suppose we could go the massively parallel route to achieve the likeness of lots of speed with relatively slow parts.

Besides all of this, wouldn’t it be great if instead of charging your electronic devices, you had to feed them?

“Excuse me while I go feed my computer.”

“Okay, I’m back”

In other news (okay, this is from my birthday two years ago), researchers at MIT have developed a way to power devices with non-radiating waves. Go here to find out more. It is really cool because this would not create any interference with any device unless it happens to have a specific resonance that tunes in the wireless energy source. Pretty cool.


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