Researchers at McMaster University have developed a fireproof, motion-powered, low-cost sensor that can track the location of firefighters within burning buildings. Miners, steelworkers, and other professions where the risk is high and visibility varies can also benefit.
When the movement of a sensor-wearing individual stops, alerts are sent to notify the rest of the on-site team. A new carbon aerogel nanocomposite grants the sensor its fireproof abilities, and since it’s motion-powered, it doesn’t need an external power source.
“If somebody is unconscious and you are unable to find them, this could be very useful,” says Ravi Selvaganapathy, professor of mechanical engineering, who oversaw the project. “The nice thing is that because it is self-powered, you don’t have to do anything. It scavenges power from the environment.”
Since the sensor is near the size of a button-cell watch battery, it can tag along with workers without notice, whether it’s integrated into a boot’s sole, or the arm of a jacket. The sensor’s placement is important though, for it draws power from motion with consistent contact and release patterns.
“The sensor uses triboelectric, or friction-generated charging, harvesting electricity from movement in much the same way that a person in socks picks up static electricity walking across a carpet,” according to McMaster University.
Previous devices that offer similar tracking capabilities suffer from material and battery breakdown when exposed to high temperatures, according to the researchers. However, when the team placed their device in a 300°C (572°F) environment, it still functioned like a charm. At that temperature, most wood starts to catch fire.
“It’s exciting to develop something that could save someone’s life in the future,” says co-author Islam Hassan, McMaster PhD student in mechanical engineering. “If firefighters use our technology and we can save someone’s life that would be great.”
Next up, the team will try to find commercial partnerships to market the sensor.
The researchers describe their work in the paper, “Fire-retardant, self-extinguishing triboelectric nanogenerators,” published in Nano Energy.