Posted in | News | Motion Sensor

New Motion-Powered, Fireproof Sensor Could Track the Movements of Firefighters and Miners

Researchers from McMaster University, in association with partners at other universities, have developed a fireproof, motion-powered sensor that has the ability to monitor the movements of miners, steelworkers, firefighters, and others who work in high-risk settings where they cannot invariably be seen.

McMaster University researchers, working with colleagues from other institutions led the development of a self-powered, fireproof sensor to track the movements of firefighters and others who work beyond the line of sight in high-risk environments. (Image credit: McMaster University)

The sensor is extremely affordable and is roughly the size of a button-cell watch battery. It can be easily integrated into the under the arm of a jacket or the sole of a boot, or wherever motion generates a pattern of continuous contact and release, to produce the power required by the sensor to work.

Using triboelectric, or charging generated by friction, the sensor harvests electricity from movements in just the same manner that a person wearing socks picks up static electricity by simply treading across a carpet.

The sensor is capable of tracking a person’s location and movement in hazardous environments like a mineshaft or a burning building, warning someone outside when the movement stops.

A novel carbon aerogel nanocomposite is the main material in the sensor. This nanocomposite is fireproof, and the device does not require charging from a power source.

If somebody is unconscious and you are unable to find them, this could be very useful. The nice thing is that because it is self-powered, you don't have to do anything. It scavenges power from the environment.

Ravi Selvaganapathy, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, McMaster University.

Selvaganapathy supervised the project.

The new sensor has been described in the journal Nano Energy by the research team from McMaster University, the University of Chemistry and Technology Prague, and UCLA.

According to the researchers, although formerly designed self-powered sensors have enabled analogous tracking, their materials used to break down at elevated temperatures, making them ineffective.

In extreme heat, a self-powered sensor is required because the majority of batteries also tend to break down in elevated temperatures. Now, the novel technology has been successfully tested by the researchers at temperatures around 300 °C—temperatures where most kinds of wood begin to burn—without any impact on function.

It’s exciting to develop something that could save someone's life in the future. If firefighters use our technology and we can save someone's life, that would be great.

Islam Hassan, Study Co-Author and PhD Student, Department of Mechanical Engineering, McMaster University.

The researchers are hoping to collaborate with a commercial partner in an effort to bring the technology to market.

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