Haque receives ENGINE grant for 'Powering the Internet of Things'

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Aman Haque, professor of mechanical engineering, was one of three recipients of funding through the College of Engineering’s ENGineering for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (ENGINE) grant program for his project “Powering the Internet of Things.”

The Internet of Things refers to a network of physical objects with embedded wireless sensors that enable them to collect and exchange data. These objects can be anything from vehicles, traffic lights and roads to buildings and appliances. Sensors could be used in agriculture to check animals or crops or in medicine to connect with devices like heart monitors.

“It is estimated that by 2025 basically everything will have its own IP address just like our computers, and they will be able to send and receive data,” Haque said.

Haque’s proposal looks at how to power the wireless sensors transmitting data about these objects. Currently, batteries are the most common power source, but as the Internet of Things continues to grow, wireless sensors are being deployed in remote areas where maintenance-free lifetime power sources are needed. While the sensors use only a few milliwatts of power to send and receive signals, they usually are not in locations where they can draw power from electricity. Haque’s group is focusing on harvesting energy from very low intensity sources to inexpensively power the wireless sensors. Possible power sources include light, heat, magnetic fields or motion.  

“The challenge is how to get a very small amount of power from almost nothing,” Haque said. “If we’re using light, it would be very low light. If we’re using heat, it would be only as hot as human body temperature.” 

Haque’s group has already done some work in the area of low-intensity heat as a power source with funding from the National Science Foundation. The ENGINE grant allows them to expand their research to look at using low-intensity light as well.

Now in its second year, the ENGINE grant program provides financial support to faculty to help transition their early stage research results through a proof-of-concept phase, with the ultimate objective of forming a startup company or licensing the technology to an established business.

About two years ago, Haque set up a startup company, which he has proposed will do the commercialization of the power supply. His company has a firm understanding of what is needed for commercialization, such as knowing the industry partners and customers, as well as understanding how this technology would fit into the entire market.

"The ENGINE grant program is a fantastic program. It encourages faculty to be entrepreneurs and to translate research from the University to society more quickly than usual," Haque said.

The college's ENGINE grants program is supplemented by the Penn State Research Foundation Fund for Innovation, which matches one dollar for every two dollars provided by the college, up to a maximum $75,000 total investment per project.

Last Updated March 24, 2016