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"Power Grab" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Researchers have discovered a way to capture and harness energy transmitted by such sources as radio and television transmitters, cell phone networks and satellite communications systems.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Electronic sucking sound) Power Grab.

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Shhhh. Can you hear it? Do you feel it all around you? Probably not, but it's there, (Sound effect: light hum and buzz of many radio, telephone, and electrical sources fades in) ambient energy. You know, the electromagnetic energy emitted by cell phone and radio and TV towers even satellite systems. It's just coursing through the air.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have discovered a way to harvest and store ambient energy. In order to be able to pick from the many frequency ranges, the team used an ultra-wideband antenna that can get everything from FM radio to radar signals. Their scavenging devices capture, then convert the power from AC to DC, and store it in capacitors or batteries.

(Sound effect: hair dryer) Now you're not gonna exactly going to be running your hairdryer with ambient power just yet. More likely small electronic devices like sensors and microprocessors.

The team is using inkjet printers to "print" sensors, antennas and energy-capture capabilities on paper or flexible polymer material. Imagine wireless, self-powered sensors in airport security for detection, monitoring temperature and humidity throughout your home, in buildings and bridges to warn of structural problems, even as inexpensive food-spoilage detectors and (Sound effect: beeping from medial machine) wearable bio-monitors that observe patient medical issues.

All powered with energy harvested in an electromagnetic field. Sort of a high-tech dream-catcher.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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