Talk about good vibrations. Researchers at the University of Michigan are developing tiny generators that harvest the kinetic energy going on around us on a daily basis. The Parametric Frequency Increased Generators, or PFIGs, scavenge tiny vibrations created by traffic on streets or bridges, people walking up and down stairs or even machinery operating in factories. The teensy power providers could eventually provide electricity for devices like watches, pacemakers and wireless sensors that monitor infrastructure.
So far scientists designed three prototype PFIGs with a fourth on the way. The first two utilize electromagnetic induction to convert energy, much like large-scale generators at power plants do. The third prototype is the coolest one, in our opinion. The PFIG measures one cubic centimeter and utilizes piezoeletric material, a substance that produces a charge when it’s stressed.
Designers say the PFIGs could be used to power small devices like wrist watches, pacemakers and wireless sensors that could have huge implications for infrastructure health monitoring. For example, tiny sensors on bridges or buildings could detect cracks or weak spots before these problems were visible to the human eye. The sensors could also be deployed throughout public spaces or buildings to track environmental pollutants or monitor energy efficiency.
While other kinetic energy harvesters exist, the PFIGs are some of the first to derive power from non-periodic vibrations–low-frequency vibrations that occurs in the surrounding environment, not as the result of intentional movement like pulling a cord or twirling a battery.