Credit: University of Michigan

Energy harvesting collects power from ambient sources, such as heat, light, or motion, and converts it into another form of energy. In most cases, it produces electricity to do useful work or to be stored for use later. One missing piece, however, is computing technology that uses less power than typical devices, so that energy harvesting can provide all the required power. Enter PsyKick, a new processor with ultra-low power consumption.

The technology got its start at MIT, where two graduate students worked together on low-power logic circuits. The two founders are now professors at University of Virginia and University of Michigan, but they have continued their collaboration. The basic concept is that a typical transistor uses some power, even when in its “off” state. The PsyKick makes use of that “lost” power for low-voltage operations. The result is that the chips use “100 to 1000 times” less power than traditional designs.

The company has demonstrated a wearable electocardiogram (ECG) sensor that communicated data wirelessly, but did not require any batteries. Heat from the subject’s body provided sufficient electricity to power the device. Coupled with various energy harvesting systems, the chip could be used to drive a wide variety of sensor devices for health and medical applications.