4D-Printed MEMS Energy Harvesting and Wireless Power Transfer

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Electronic and Electrical Engineering


The pipe environment is exceptionally harsh but it is essential that we realise a tetherless solution so the autonomous robots are free to explore, inspect and map the complex network of buried pipes. The first major challenge is that the diverse pipe materials, diameters, contents and fill fluids and levels mean that communications will be exceptionally challenging. Finding solutions to this communications problem is the main role of the post doc appointed in Elec Eng. A second major problem is that the robots solely rely only on batteries, drastically limiting their capability to investigate the buried pipe network. Water companies are adamant that robots must not be lost in the network, so the problem of flat batteries must be overcome. There is a clear demand for wireless charging (where possible) and energy harvesting to support the operation of robots over an extended period of time. Therefore, the power subsystem is one of the most crucial aspects of the in-pipe robotic exploration system since the robot(s) must be tetherless, have sufficient power to travel significant distance and operate with a high degree of autonomy when communication is restricted. There are several subsystems with significant power consumption, including locomotion, data communication, localisation, sensors, on-board processing, etc., which set the power constraints of the overall systems. However, the ability of a robot to be charged wirelessly or by harvest energy depends very much on the specific environment it is in. Wireless power transfer is a strong contender for charging robots at a distance for empty pipes and the synergy with communications can be exploited. In water pipes, water flow permits energy harvesting and reported techniques that will be investigated include miniature turbines, MEMS microgenerators, and polymer-based biomimetic approaches such as the energy harvesting.
This work includes:
- Development of 4D printed MEMS structures based on multi-photopolymer techniques and subtractive manufacturing. "4D" is a term that is coined to emphasise the integration of functional materials into a 3D printing process - in this case these will be primarily conductive graphene filament and exotic dielectric materials that changed shapes over time.
- Introduce hybrid solution of in-situ energy harvesting in harsh environments, e.g. closed pipe system, based on various miniaturisation techniques such as 4D printed piezoelectrics, subaquatic micro-resonators, etc.
- Fabrication and integration of the developed in-situ hybrid power generator subsystems to robots based on heterogenous integration technique for harsh conditions.
- Develop energy harvesting techniques that can be integrated into soft robotic systems.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513258/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2023
2283766 Studentship EP/R513258/1 30/09/2019 30/03/2023 Giorgos Savvides