Swansea University researchers awarded £908K to develop self-powered internet of things devices

Scientists and engineers at Swansea University have been awarded a research grant by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) that will see them explore highly novel forms of physical photovoltaic (PV) tiles that can be placed on buildings, objects and even clothes.

Internet of things

What will be special about these materials is that they will harvest indoor and ambient light, achieving world-record efficiency rates, to power integrated digital services.

The three-year project involves a range of local and global partners. Dr Ben Masheder of DST Innovations, based in Bridgend, Wales, said: “We believe that the surface has barely been scratched of integrated devices such as sensors, displays, energy harvesting and lighting. This project brings together all of these elements and will go a long way to addressing the challenges that this area presents and because of these we are excited to be a partner in the research.”

Further afield, the team will work with IIT-B in Mumbai, India; Prof Anirudha  Joshi of the Industrial Design Centre said: “The energy demands the internet of things revolution brings are enormous. In the 'developed' world this problem will affect sustainability.  In the 'developing' world, though, energy resource constraints and physical resource issues means that without innovation, billions of people will have reduced opportunities to benefit from the coming digital transformation”.

The project will be led by Professor Matt Jones in the College of Science and Dr Matt Carnie in the College of Engineering. Professor Jones said: “This project is funded by EPSRC to act as a world class exemplar of what is called cross-disciplinary and co-creation research. That is, research that needs intensive engagement between two very different areas of expertise – in our case human computer interaction and photovoltaics – and that involves real end-users in the process”. Dr Carnie added: “We are all delighted to be able to work together on this ambitious research agenda that will have a real influence on how future solar cells are constructed and used in everyday life”.

The applications for the technologies are vast and diverse:-

  • a child could create interactive art designs for their  bedroom wall which can be sent to the Interactive-PV display tiles installed. While they work like LED displays, they can operate for years without needing external power, battery changes or space-consuming standard PV cells.
  • A pedestrian walking in Mumbai during the monsoon rains could also benefit from this technology. By gesturing at a flexible Interactive-PV tile woven into a street awning they could receive a no-entry warning sign, allowing them to change direction to avoid walking into a deep flood in the passageway ahead.

The work will begin in September 2018 in the brand new Computational Foundry on the University’s Bay Campus.