24 February 2010


I was poking around a few days ago for stories on RFID; I've been interested in the technology for about a year, and am really into the ways that so many different industries have experimented with it in making operations & the exchange of information more efficient. (If you haven't heard of Songdo yet, your mind will shatter to pieces. Mine is still recovering, 14 months later).

What I found was pretty awesome: this new technology called Energy-Harvesting Active Networked Tags (or, EnHANTs) that does just that: harvests energy and communicates information. A team at Columbia University is working on this flexible chip that harvests energy from things like the sun and movement, and communicates with other wireless devices using this power. We've all been hearing about harvesting energy to power small electronics for a couple of years; this is the same kind of thing, but in very tiny form, and with communications capabilities. It's getting a lot of attention right now because it won a Vodafone contest that was searching for new ways wireless technology could be used in times of global crisis. The EnHANTs team's project for the contest is called Active Networked Tags for Disaster Recovery Applications, and deals with using these flexible, energy-harvesting chips in places where buildings are prone to fire or collapse. If something terrible happens and a building collapses, the chips could assess the area and communicate with rescue workers on their wireless devices. From an interview:
The system will be designed to enable the rescue forces to get a good understanding of the situation within a disaster site. In particular, the tags will be carried by people within the building and embedded in the infrastructure. In case of emergency, the tags will construct a network. This network will be used in order to transmit information (e.g., last known location of a survivor) from the survivors to receivers that will be deployed by the rescue forces around the disaster site. The multi-hop nature of the network will enable rescuers to obtain information from survivors that are relatively far from the receivers without depleting their energy resources.
Now that is pretty wonderful! And it gave me an idea. Remember the thing I mentioned in my butterfly article about sensors that can detect harmful vapors in the air? Radislav and the gang over at GE are working on these sensors; wouldn't it be great if they could combine this wearable RFID technology with the EnHANTs to add atmospheric monitoring capabilities? If there are harmful gases in the air, for example, this added functionality could help rescue workers mobilize accordingly (and even help keep them safe as well). I'm no engineer, but couldn't this be possible?

Anyway. Once this technology is ready to go, it will only be a matter of (several) months or (a few) years until a bunch of other industries begin using it to solve all sorts of problems. Let's just say I don't think the pronunciation of the acronym EnHANTs was an accident ;)
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