appliance switch
Source: Piqsels

Self-powered IoT disc could replace switches and house keys

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A breakthrough solar-powered IoT control disc developed by researchers from Australia’s Monash University and the National University of Singapore could see house keys and electrical switches become a thing of the past.

As the Internet of Things becomes a more integral part of our homes, it makes sense that the control of smart home devices is simplified as far as possible.

The triboelectric disc, described in a paper published by the researchers in Nano Energy in May, is the result of two years’ working on a solution to create a human-machine interface to control smart home devices and appliances.

Able to control up to eight smart devices such as smart TVS via Bluetooth, it can also be used to enhance home security and do away with keys, allowing home and business owners to open secure premises via a finger swipe motion with more than 262,000 different combinations.

Completely powered by a tiny 22mm x 7mm solar cell at its centre that is sensitive enough to harvest energy from artificial light sources, the 10cm diameter disc weighs just 47 grams and can be attached to convenient locations such as walls, windows or furniture.

triboelectric disc
The device, activated by the swipe of a finger, can handle eight smart devices and contains a six-digit blind password authentication system. It can also harvest energy from other light sources. Source: Monash University

“Smart home technology has been extensively developed and is capturing more attention from researchers,” Associate Professor Mehmet Yuce, lead researcher in Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering at Monash University, said in a statement.

“However, digital devices used for smart home connectivity have little or no built-in security, which makes them vulnerable to cyber-attack.”

Yuce says that with rapid move to working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for secure interfaces that is also user-friendly has never been more critical.

“The technology can also be useful to secure abandoned offices and work stations by enabling an extra layer of security because of this pandemic,” he says.

The device works by using a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) interface which generates 3-bit binary-reflected Gray-code (an an encoding of numbers so that adjacent numbers have a single digit differing by 1).

Using a different sensing pattern for each device, eight smart home appliances can be turned on by swiping in one direction, and off by swiping the same pattern in the opposite direction.

This device can protect business and home owners against would be thieves. There are more than 262,000 combinations in the password authentication system. Source: Monash University
This device can protect business and home owners against would be thieves. There are more than 262,000 combinations in the password authentication system. Source: Monash University

Chunkai Qiu, a PhD researcher hailing from Monash University, says the TENG-based device offers great potential as an alternative to switches and keys.

“The TENG-based control disc exhibits exceptional advantages over mechanical and current digital switches, such as being self-powered, portable, multifunctional, reliable, and high scalability and safe,” Qiu said in a statement.

“Compared with standard numeric keypads, the TENG device has no obvious digits on the interface. Therefore, it is difficult for another person to see the password you have entered.

“A good example is, for instance, when using ATM or shopping keypads, digits can be copied from observation or by using a camera. From our proposed sliding based disc concept, it will be very difficult to identify the codes as the ‘numbers’ are hidden within the disc.”


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Bridie Schmidt

Bridie Schmidt specialises in writing about new technology and how it can help solve the problems of carbon emissions and climate change. With a degree in Communications from Macquarie University, and 20 years experience in front end web development, she has freelanced as a web and graphic designer since 2001. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. You can email Bridie at [email protected].

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