Compute-proximal Energy Harvesting for Mobile Environments: Fundamentals, Applications, and Tools

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Park, Jung Wook
Abowd, Gregory D.
Arriaga, Rosa I.
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Over the past two decades, we have witnessed remarkable achievements in computing, sensing, actuating, and communications capabilities of ubiquitous computing applications. However, due to the limitations in stable energy supply, it is difficult to make the applications ubiquitous. Batteries have been considered a promising technology for this problem, but their low energy density and sluggish innovation have constrained the utility and expansion of ubiquitous computing. Two key techniques—energy harvesting and power management—have been studied as alternatives to overcome the battery limitations. Compared to static environments such as homes or buildings, there are more energy harvesting opportunities in mobile environments since ubiquitous systems can generate various forms of energy as they move. Most of the previous studies in this regard have been focused on human movements for wearable computing, while other mobile environments (e.g., cars, motorcycles, and bikes) have received limited attention. In this thesis, I present a class of energy harvesting approaches called compute-proximal energy harvesting, which allows us to develop energy harvesting technology where computing, sensing, and actuating are needed in vehicles. Computing includes sensing phenomena, executing instructions, actuating components, storing information, and communication. Proximal considers the harvesting of energy available around the specific location where computation is needed, reducing the need for excessive wiring. A primary goal of this new approach is to mitigate the effort associated with the installation and field deployment of self-sustained computing and lower the entry barriers to developing self-sustainable systems for vehicles. In this thesis, I first select an automobile as a promising case study and discuss the opportunities, challenges, and design guidelines of compute-proximal energy harvesting with practical yet advanced examples in the automotive domain. Second, I present research in the design of small-scale wind energy harvesters and the implementation and evaluation of two advanced safety sensing systems—a blind spot monitoring system and a lane detection system—with the harvested power from wind. Finally, I conduct a study to democratize the lessons learned from the automotive case studies for makers and people with no prior experience in energy harvesting technology. In this study, I seek to understand what problems they have encountered and what possible solutions they have considered while dealing with energy harvesting technology. Based on the findings, I develop a comprehensive energy harvesting toolkit and examine its utility, usability, and creativity through a series of workshops.
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