DARPA N-ZERO Envisions “Asleep-yet-Aware” Electronics that Could Revolutionize Remote Wireless Sensors -
New program seeks to develop near-zero-power technologies that could operate reliably for years and eventually benefit the growing global network of Internet-enabled devices. State-of-the-art military sensors today rely on “active electronics” to detect vibration, light, sound or other signals. That means they constantly consume power, with much of that power and time spent processing what often turns out to be irrelevant data. This power consumption limits sensors’ useful lifetimes to a few weeks or months when operating from state-of-the-art batteries, and has slowed the development of new sensor technologies and capabilities. Moreover, the chronic need to redeploy power-depleted sensors is not only costly and time-consuming but also increases warfighter exposure to danger.
DARPA’s new Near Zero Power RF and Sensor Operations (N-ZERO) program seeks to overcome the power limitations of persistent sensing by developing wireless, event-driven sensing capabilities that would allow physical, electromagnetic and other sensors to remain dormant—effectively asleep yet aware—until an event of interest awakens them. To achieve these goals, the program intends to develop underlying technologies to continuously and passively monitor the environment and activate an electronic circuit only upon detection of a specific signature, such as the presence of a particular vehicle type or radio communications protocol. N-ZERO seeks to exploit the energy in signal signatures to detect and recognize attention-worthy events while rejecting noise and interference.
“It is the waiting for a specific event or activity that constrains mission life and drains the battery energy of these essential electronics,” said Troy Olsson, DARPA program manager. “By cutting reliance on active power and enhancing battery life, N-ZERO aims to enable wireless, ubiquitous sensing that is energy efficient and safer for the warfighter. Our goal is to use the right signal itself to wake up the sensor, which would improve sensors’ effectiveness and warfighters’ situational awareness by drastically reducing false alarms.”