Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

DoD picks Xerox PARC peel-and-stick RFID sensors for building efficiency

William Payne
January 5, 2017
Xerox PARC is developing a range of peel and stick RFID sensors for the US Department of Energy. The aim is to develop a range of cheap, low energy sensors that can help reduce energy use in buildings and increase safety.

PARC is famous as the Xerox research lab that pioneered a number of computing technologies including Ethernet, GUI and Windows based computing, and ubiquitous computing.

The DOE Buildings Energy Efficiency Frontiers and Innovation Technologies (BENEFIT) solicitation this past year is funding a total of 18 projects, encompassing sensors and controls, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and related technologies, windows, building envelopes (the physical elements, such as doors and walls, separating a building's interior from its exterior) and energy modeling. The RFID projects fall within the sensors and controls category.

“Distributed sensing enables richer knowledge of any environment, detecting air quality, temperature, humidity, occupancy, and more,” said David Schwartz, project lead and Manager of Energy Devices and Systems at PARC. “Sensors need to be low-cost, easily deployed, require little or no maintenance, and be able to store enough energy to do their job. PARC’s flexible, printed and hybrid electronics enable the unique peel-and-stick form factor, provide affordable, plug-and-play installation, and allow for remote radio frequency power delivery.”

One of the challenges in distributed sensing is power. PARC’s low-cost sensors are powered by RF energy instead of batteries, which have limited life, or light, which can be ineffective inside of buildings. The innovative peel-and-stick deployment provides simple and affordable installation advantages. Sensors can be applied throughout the facility and easily replaced or moved when necessary, allowing for a deeper and more accurate understanding of building environment than what is currently available. The sensors are also auto-locating, facilitating commissioning, and enabling additional capabilities, such as automatic wall mapping.

According to Xerox PARC, printing is a promising approach to mass-produce and customise sensor systems to support the fast growing IoT. The company says its low cost, flexible form factor, and simple installation are ideal for a variety of applications including building efficiency, air quality, smart cities, industrial and residential safety, and wearables. In addition to the cost of fabrication and materials, commissioning is a major barrier to economical implementation. Automatic localisation, simplified calibration, and redundancy can help reduce the commissioning effort required. The key to the success of any widespread IoT deployment is the ability to utilize configurable, on-demand, low cost, sensor systems, and to design the technology to best fit the application.

“Distributed, networked sensing and data collection is the basis of the IoT. PARC is poised to provide a variety of the IoT sensors given our deep and rich history in printed electronics,” said Schwartz.

Last year, PARC announced its methane detection sensors, based on printed sensor arrays fabricated on polymer substrates. PARC is developing very low cost printed sensor arrays to quantify and locate methane leaks, using a variety of modified carbon nanotube (CNT) materials. The combined response of the sensors provides "fingerprints" for methane and other gases. This approach offers a solution to identify, quantify and locate natural gas leaks at a cost point compatible with widespread deployment. Methane, a major component of natural gas, is a significant greenhouse gas, with many times the heat-trapping effect of carbon dioxide.