The objective of this work was to demonstrate smart wireless sensing nodes capable of operation at extremely low power levels. These systems were designed to be compatible with energy harvesting systems using piezoelectric materials and/or solar cells. The wireless sensing nodes included a microprocessor, on-board memory, sensing means (1000 ohm foil strain gauge), sensor signal conditioning, 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.15.4 radio transceiver, and rechargeable battery. Extremely low power consumption sleep currents combined with periodic, timed wake-up was used to minimize the average power consumption. Furthermore, we deployed pulsed sensor excitation and microprocessor power control of the signal conditioning elements to minimize the sensors’ average contribution to power draw. By sleeping in between samples, we were able to demonstrate extremely low average power consumption. At 10 Hz, current consumption was 300 microamps at 3 VDC (900 microwatts); at 5 Hz: 400 microwatts, at 1 Hz: 90 microwatts. When the RF stage was not used, but data were logged to memory, consumption was further reduced. Piezoelectric strain energy harvesting systems delivered ~2000 microwatts under low level vibration conditions. Output power levels were also measured from two miniature solar cells; which provided a wide range of output power (~100 to 1400 microwatts), depending on the light type & distance from the source. In summary, system power consumption may be reduced by: 1) removing the load from the energy harvesting & storage elements while charging, 2) by using sleep modes in between samples, 3) pulsing excitation to the sensing and signal conditioning elements in between samples, and 4) by recording and/or averaging, rather than frequently transmitting, sensor data.
Our goal was to demonstrate a wireless communications system capable of simultaneous, high speed data communications from a variety of sensors. We have previously reported on the design and application of 2 KHz data logging transceiver nodes, however, only one node may stream data at a time, since all nodes on the network use the same communications frequency. To overcome these limitations, second generation data logging transceivers were developed with software programmable radio frequency (RF) communications. Each node contains on-board memory (2 Mbytes), sensor excitation, instrumentation amplifiers with programmable gains & offsets, multiplexer, 16 bit A/D converter, microcontroller, and frequency agile, bi-directional, frequency shift keyed (FSK) RF serial data link. These systems are capable of continuous data transmission from 26 distinct nodes (902-928 MHz band, 75 kbaud).
The system was demonstrated in a compelling structural monitoring application. The National Parks Service requested a means for continual monitoring and recording of sensor data from the Liberty Bell during a move to a new location (Philadelphia, October 2003). Three distinct, frequency agile, wireless sensing nodes were used to detect visible crack shear/opening micromotions, triaxial accelerations, and hairline crack tip strains. The wireless sensors proved to be useful in protecting the Liberty Bell.
Our goal was to demonstrate a robust strain energy harvesting system for powering an embedded wireless sensor network without batteries.
A composite material specimen was laminated with unidirectional aligned piezoelectric fibers (PZT5A, 250 um, overall 13x10x.38 mm). The fibers were embedded within a resin matrix for damage tolerance
(Advanced Cerametrics, Lambertville, NJ). A foil strain gauge (Micro-Measurements, Raleigh, NC) was bonded to the piezoelectric fiber and shunt calibrated. The specimen was loaded in three point cyclic
bending (75 to 300 με peak) using an electrodynamic actuator operating at 60,120, and 180 Hz.
Strain energy was stored by rectifying piezoelectric fiber output into a capacitor bank. When the capacitor voltage reached a preset threshold, charge was transferred to an integrated, embeddable wireless sensor node (StrainLink, MicroStrain, Inc., Williston, VT). Nodes include: 16 bit A/D converter w/programmable gain and filter, 5 single ended or 3 differential sensor inputs, microcontroller w/16 bit
address, on-board EEPROM, and 418 MHz FSK RF transmitter. Transmission range was 1/3 mile (LOS, 1/4 wavelength antennas, 12 milliamps at +3 VDC). The RF receiver included EEPROM, XML output,
and Ethernet connectivity. Received data from network nodes are parsed according to their individual addresses.
The times required to accumulate sufficient charge to accomplish data transmission was evaluated. For peak strains of 150 με, the time to transmit was 30 to 160 seconds (for 180 to 60 Hz tests).