It’s easy enough to find a solar-powered charger for iPods, cell phones, and other gadgets, but this ultra-tiny solar-powered sensor system is smaller than anything else on the market — 1,000 times smaller than standard systems, in fact. Developed at the University of Michigan, the 2.5 x 3.5 x 1 millimeter system is the smallest in the world, and it can harvest energy from its surroundings almost perpetually.
Measuring in at 9 cubic millimeters, the micro sensor requires half a volt to operate, but the device can put out up to 4 volts of power with reasonable indoor lighting. It probably won’t be on store shelves any time soon, but the solar-powered system could be used to make environmental sensor networks that keep track of water and air quality both cheaper and more efficient. The device also has a number of possible medical applications — for example, it could monitor pressure changes in the eyes for patients with glaucoma. Eventually, the sensor could be powered by heat or movement and used inside the body.
Next up: commercializing the sensor. The University of Michigan has plenty of backing for the project from organizations including National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Focus Center Research Program. We look forward to seeing what they come up with.