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Friday, March 9, 2018

Tiny Wake-up Receivers Could Extend Sensor Life, a Welcome Sign for the Internet of Things

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Warfighters rely on sensors in war zones that provide critical information. Sensors watch over roads U.S. armed forces travel. They detect when adversaries bury improvised explosive devices.

But to constantly monitor battlefield conditions, sensors are always “on” to detect vibration, light, sound or other signals for situational awareness and to inform tactical planning and action. With their current dependence on small batteries with short lives, sensors can put soldiers in jeopardy by forcing them to expose themselves to ambush attacks while changing sensor batteries.

Draper addressed this challenge by developing a sensor that awakens only in the presence of target acoustic signals—and requires far less power to operate. In a radical redesign, Draper engineers found they could reduce the sensor’s standby power needs to near-zero if they built the sensor as a microelectromechanical system (MEMS).

“Sensors constantly consume power, with much of that power spent processing what often turns out to be irrelevant data or noise,” said Jonathan Bernstein, a microelectromechanical engineer at Draper. “We solved that by designing a zero-power acoustic wake-up switch actuated by environmental sounds that will enable sensor systems to last for years, limited only by battery discharge rates.”

Bernstein invents, designs and fabricates novel MEMS devices. A paper on the Draper’s new sensor has been submitted to the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems. Their discovery could be useful for extending battery life by conserving energy and reducing drain, a beneficial feature for both internet of things devices and unattended ground sensors, the paper said.

“One area where sensor systems need to advance is power consumption and battery life,” said Marc Weinberg, design engineer in Draper’s Mechanical Engineering and System Packaging division. “As sensors move into more applications, from the military, to our homes, to the internet of things, there’s a search on for ways to optimize battery consumption. We believe an acoustic wake-up switch shows promise for the future of sensors.”

The current research into MEMS, which was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for its N-Zero Program, is part of Draper’s materials engineering and microfabrication portfolio. Draper develops sensors for energy, transportation, defense and cybersecurity, and excels at developing extremely small sensor systems with surprising sensitivity and resolution that are cost-effective and thus easier to distribute widely. Draper facilities in Cambridge include a microfabrication center, MEMS facility, polymer fabrication, precision machine shop and a Center for Additive Manufacturing.

The journal article, titled “Resonant Acoustic MEMS Wake-Up Switch,” was written by Bernstein and Draper engineers Mirela G. Bancu, Eugene H. Cook, Amy E. Duwel, Richard D. Elliott, Douglas A. Gauthier, Stephanie L. Golmon, John J. LeBlanc, Michael Tomaino-Iannucci, Jonathan S. Ung and Weinberg.

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A new sensor developed by Draper is designed to work for years with almost no power, providing benefits to the military and the internet of things.
Capabilities Used
Precision Instrumentation

Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.).  As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.


Draper has designed and developed microelectronic components and systems going back to the mid-1980s. Our integrated, ultra-high density (iUHD) modules of heterogeneous components feature system functionality in the smallest form factor possible through integration of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology with Draper-developed custom packaging and interconnect technology. Draper continues to pioneer custom Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS), Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and custom radio frequency components for both commercial (microfluidic platforms organ assist, drug development, etc.) and government (miniaturized data collection, new sensors, Micro-sats, etc.) applications.  Draper features a complete in-house iUHD and MEMS fabrication capability and has existing relationships with many other MEMS and microelectronics fabrication facilities. 

Secure & Assured Systems

Over the past 10 years, Draper has extracted miniature systems and real-time embedded systems design knowledge to develop cyber capabilities to assess software vulnerabilities and capabilities to secure electronics systems. Additionally, Draper has demonstrated secure networks featuring over-the-air keying to realize cryptographically encoded, high-bandwidth communications for UAVs and other applications. These complementary capabilities and technologies provide robust security solutions to guard critical embedded systems against cyber, reverse engineering, and other attacks and ensure that critical information can be protected and delivered in a timely and accurate manner.

Image & Data Analytics

Draper combines specific domain expertise and knowledge of how to apply the latest analytics techniques to extract meaningful information from raw data to better understand complex, dynamic processes. Our system design approach encompasses effective organization and processing of large data sets, automated analysis using algorithms and exploitation of results. To facilitate user interaction with these processed data sets, Draper applies advanced techniques to automate understanding and correlation of patterns in the data. Draper’s expertise encompasses machine learning (including deep learning), information fusion from diverse and heterogeneous data sources, optimized coupling of data acquisition and analysis and novel methods for analysis of imagery and video data.

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