The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

ETH researchers develop a sensor powered by sound waves

A sensor developed by researchers in Zurich uses energy from sound waves to control electronic devices. Such a sensor could be used to monitor buildings or earthquakes and thus save batteries, as announced by ETH Zurich on Monday.

According to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), sensors that are used today to monitor infrastructures require continuous power. The energy usually comes from batteries.

The new sensor, for which ETH researchers have already applied for a patent, works without an external energy source. When a certain word is spoken or a tone or noise is heard, the resulting sound waves cause the sensor to vibrate. This energy is sufficient to generate a tiny electrical pulse that switches on an electronic device that is switched off.

Distinguishes between different words

The sensor can distinguish between different words or sounds. According to the ETH press release, the prototype vibrates when the word "four" is spoken. The word "three", on the other hand, does not trigger an oscillation in the sensor. The word "four" could therefore switch on a device or trigger further processes, whereas nothing would happen with "three". In future, the sensor should be able to distinguish between up to twelve different words. For example, "on", "off", "up" or "down", according to ETH.

The researchers led by Marc Serra-Garcia presented the principle behind this sensor in the journal "Advanced Functional Materials".

The researchers have numerous applications in mind for their sensor. For example, it could register when a building develops a crack or when gas escapes from an oil well, as ETH Zurich wrote in the press release.

According to Serra-Garcia, it could also be used in cochlear implants. These prostheses for the deaf require uninterrupted power for signal processing from batteries located behind the ear, where there is no room for large battery packs. According to the ETH, wearers of such devices therefore have to change the batteries every 12 hours.

©Keystone/SDA

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