Image via DARPA

DARPA is working on technology that will lower the energy costs for the Internet of Things to almost nothing while still keeping their sensors on a hair-trigger.

The Near Zero Power RF and Sensor Operations program, nicknamed N-ZERO, would basically make it possible for sensors keeping a look out for changes in light or sound or other environmental factors to activate immediately from a dormant state. It would be a bit like a security system that is off until someone breaks in, or a computer that goes from off to immediately browsing the Internet when you turn on the lights. For DARPA’s military purposes, the “asleep yet aware” sensors would eliminate the need to change batteries frequently or otherwise fret about power concerns.

“It is the waiting for a specific event or activity that constrains mission life and drains the battery energy of these essential electronics,” said DARPA program manager Troy Olsson in a statement. “By cutting reliance on active power and enhancing battery life, N-ZERO aims to enable wireless, ubiquitous sensing that is energy efficient and safer for the warfighter. Our goal is to use the right signal itself to wake up the sensor, which would improve sensors’ effectiveness and warfighters’ situational awareness by drastically reducing false alarms.”

DARPA is aiming to use less than 10 nanowatts for the new sensors, comparable to a traditional watch battery and a thousandth of the current energy costs. That would make the battery for a sensor last years at a time or need a much smaller size battery in order to keep up the current battery change schedule.

If it works well, this could have a huge impact on wearable tech and consumer-level products of the Internet of Things. It would be possible to have a FitBit that only activated when you were actually moving or electronic locks that were off until you approached.

“By advancing state-of-the-art sensing capabilities for national security through N-ZERO, DARPA could help make the Internet of Things more efficient and effective across countless scenarios and environments, thus transforming the way people live,” Olsson said.