DARPA Seeks N-ZERO To Extend Sensor Lifetime From Weeks To Years

  • Our Bureau
  • 03:57 PM, April 14, 2015
  • 2941

DARPA on Monday issued a statement seeking proposals for N-ZERO, new Near Zero Power RF and Sensor Operations (N-ZERO) program to develop wireless, event-driven sensing capabilities to overcome the power limitations of persistent sensing.

Near-zero-power technologies would allow physical, electromagnetic and other sensors to remain dormant until an interesting event awakens them. Military sensors today rely on “active electronics” to detect vibration, light, sound or other signals.

This power consumption limits sensors’ useful lifetimes to a few weeks or months when operating from batteries, and has slowed the development of new sensor technologies and capabilities. Moreover, the chronic need to redeploy power-depleted sensors is not only costly and time-consuming but also increases warfighter exposure to danger.

To achieve these goals, the program intends to develop underlying technologies to continuously and passively monitor the environment and activate an electronic circuit only upon detection of a specific signature, such as the presence of a particular vehicle type or radio communications protocol.

“It is the waiting for a specific event or activity that constrains mission life and drains the battery energy of these essential electronics,” said Troy Olsson, DARPA program manager.

“By cutting reliance on active power and enhancing battery life, N-ZERO aims to enable wireless, ubiquitous sensing that is energy efficient and safer for the warfighter. Our goal is to use the right signal itself to wake up the sensor, which would improve sensors’ effectiveness and warfighters’ situational awareness by drastically reducing false alarms.” Olsson added.

The goal is to use less than 10 nanowatts (nW) during the sensor’s asleep-yet-aware phase, an energy drawdown roughly equivalent to the self-discharge (battery discharge during storage) of a typical watch battery, and at least 1,000 times lower than state-of-the-art sensors.

Specifically, N-ZERO seeks to extend unattended sensor lifetime from weeks to years, cut costs of maintenance and the need for redeployment.

Alternatively, N-ZERO could also reduce battery size for a typical ground-based sensor by a factor of 20 or more while still keeping its current operational lifetime.

N-ZERO intends to initially concentrate on improving capabilities for sensors used for RF, electromagnetic, acoustic, and inertial detection and analysis. If successful, N-ZERO could provide future benefits far beyond military sensors alone. It could similarly untether the Internet of Things, the ever-expanding global network of wirelessly connected devices, projected to reach 30 billion by 2020.

“By advancing sensing capabilities for national security through N-ZERO, DARPA could help make the Internet of Things more efficient and effective across countless scenarios and environments, thus transforming the way people live,” Olsson added.


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