Lucia receives NSF CAREER grant for energy-harvesting devices


January 10, 2018

Brandon Lucia, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award supporting his research on the next generation of reliable, capable intermittent computer systems. Lucia will receive a $654,500 grant over the next five years to further his research on energy-harvesting devices.

Energy-harvesting devices are an emerging class of tiny, embedded computing and sensing systems that operate by collecting small amounts of energy extracted from their environment, tapping into sources such as radio waves, solar energy, and vibration. With system support to make batteryless devices operate reliably, these devices will be a key enabler of future applications including the Internet of Things, disaster zone and conflict zone sensing and communication, wearable and implantable medical devices, and aerospace applications including chip-scale nano-satellites. Building reliable batteryless hardware and software computer systems is a challenge because, unlike in a typical system, energy is only intermittently available. When a batteryless device's intermittent energy supply is interrupted, the system suddenly resets, erasing some of the computer's memory, retaining some parts of the computers memory, and requiring the system to collect more energy before it can continue operating. The intermittent power interruptions that occur in a batteryless system lead to new kinds of software errors are extremely difficult for a system designer to understand and fix.

The work in this project develops the tools and techniques required for non-experts to build batteryless computer systems that are highly reliable, efficient, and capable. Making these systems reliable enables their use in societally important domains that demand dependable operation including in medical devices, defense applications, and emerging consumer space exploration systems. This project will make batteryless systems accessible to even non-expert system builders, allowing entrepreneurs, researchers, and hobbyists to leverage these crucially important future computer sytems. Technology transfer of the ideas in the project will allow industry to incorporate batteryless computer systems into products, contributing to existing economic sectors such as the Internet of Things and Smart Cities devices. Future industry adoption of the ideas in this proposal will contribute to the creation of new economic sectors around reliable, batteryless medical devices, disaster zone and war zone sensing and communication devices, and emerging small satellite-based devices.

The project serves the national interest with a coherent, integrated research and education plan that will help to prepare the next generation of STEM innovators, technology workers, makers, and computational thinkers. The project's products incorporate into graduate and undergraduate curricular development and research creating an immediate impact and equipping undergraduate and graduate students to innovate using batteryless computer systems. The project's high school intern program component and high school outreach program enables early learners to understand and use batteryless computer systems and develop an early interest in STEM. The work makes batteryless computing devices broadly accessible facilitating outreach outside of the STEM field, allowing even artists and designers to use products of this project in creative applications. The purpose of outreach to high schoolers and creative users is to encourage involvement of under-represented minorities in computing and to build a more diverse and effective future STEM workforce.

The NSF CAREER Program is a foundation-wide initiative, offering prestigious awards to encourage faculty early in their careers to serve as role models in research and education, and to build the foundation for a lifetime of leadership in their field.

Learn more about Lucia’s research: