Forget about batteries. The ability to harness electricity from tiny vibrations could power a new generation of electronic devices.

This is the second of a series about MIT research on harnessing micro-sources of power (part one can be read here).

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which traverses hundreds of miles of some of the most inhospitable terrain on Earth, must be monitored almost constantly for potential problems like corrosion or cracking. Humans do some of this work — surveying the pipeline from the air and inspecting it more closely in the areas that can be easily accessed by roads — but the bulk of it is done by mechanical “pigs,” sensor-laden robots that travel inside the pipeline looking for flaws.

A simpler process might involve outfitting remote stretches of the pipeline with sensors that would automatically radio a warning of impending problems. But the need to periodically change the batteries on such sensors lessens the appeal of that option. For electronic devices in remote or inaccessible situations like this, including environmental or mechanical monitoring sensors as well as some kinds of biomedical monitors, it can be inconvenient or even impossible to replace batteries.

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