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Resilience technology funded through new Northeastern University GapFund360 grant

A new funding program at Northeastern University (NU) overseen by the Center for Research Innovation (CRI) will help faculty researchers bridge the gap between promising lab results and  commercially viable prototypes. GapFund360 officially launched on Tuesday with five inaugural Phase I awards of $50,000, including the Resilience Solutions Grant co-sponsored by the Global Resilience Institute and CRI.

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“GRI is committed to advancing practical solutions to an array of societal resilience challenges, and we see the Resilience Solutions Grant as an important means to stimulate those practical advances,” said GRI Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Robin White. “We are delighted to partner with CRI in supporting innovators whose technologies will make a concrete, real-world impact on resilience. “

The inaugural Resilience Solutions Grant was awarded to NU Associate Professor Matteo Rinaldi, Research Assistant Professor Zhenyun Qian and Senior PhD Student Sungho Kang for their project; “Batteryless Infrared Sensor Tags for Reliable Occupancy Sensing (BISTROS).”

Battery-less Infrared Sensor Tags for Reliable Occupancy Sensing (BISTROS)
Matteo Rinaldi, Zhenyun Qian, Sungho Kang
Sensor systems for human presence sensing and people counting will drastically improve the efficiency of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in commercial buildings based on the demand. However, a user-transparent sensor system with the required accuracy, reliability, and cost to deliver such substantial energy savings is currently not available. We propose to develop an occupancy sensor technology that enables low cost and reliable indoor people counting for quick return on investment through dramatical savings on energy cost. The sensors will utilize the energy of the infrared radiation emitted from a human body to operate and determine the presence of people within a detection range without consuming any electrical power. Therefore, the battery-less sensor tags can be installed virtually anywhere in a building without the need of periodic maintenance.

Sensor systems for human presence sensing and people counting can drastically improve the efficiency of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in commercial buildings based on the demand. However, a user-transparent sensor system with the required accuracy, reliability, and cost to deliver such substantial energy savings is currently not available. Under the GapFund360, Professor Matteo Rinaldi and his team have proposed an occupancy sensor technology that enables low cost and reliable indoor people counting for a quick return on investment through dramatic savings on energy cost.

“The proposed occupancy sensor technology based on our recently developed zero-power infrared sensors represents a truly user-transparent, privacy-preserving and universally adaptive solution for indoor occupancy sensing and people counting,” said Rinaldi, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Director of the Northeastern SMART Center. “The resulting energy saving directly enhances financial resilience for electricity bill payers. It also contributes to the resilience of society through the conservation of natural resources.”

Currently, many ventilation sensor systems rely on conventional passive infrared (PIR) sensors which are limited to detecting people in motion within a certain field of view. Proposed solutions to get around those parameters – such as video surveillance or Bluetooth tracking “beacons” – come with privacy and data processing concerns.

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The Center for Research Innovation works to pair solution-oriented research with real-world needs for the enrichment of society through the protection, acceleration, and commercialization of Northeastern innovation.

The innovative solution proposed by the NU research team instead utilizes Zero-Power-Infrared (ZIR) digitizing sensor technology which harnesses energy from human-emitted Infrared Radiation (IR) to determine and detect presence without the need for external power.

“Such a tool not only increase the financial resilience of residents and city government, but also increase the resilience of existing power facilities when the population and size of an urban area quickly expand,” noted Qian, a research assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “On the other hand, the same technology can be further developed to extend the coverage to urban facilities and even outdoor areas such as subway stations, shelters, bunkers and stadiums. A city-scale sensor network based on our zero-power occupancy sensor technology will be able to provide invaluable anonymous information on geographical distribution of crowd in normal days and upon occurrence of human-made and natural disasters without privacy concerns, which is a big deal for enhancing the resilience at the societal level.”

Differing from PIR technology, ZIR sensors do not require any active electronics for signal conditioning, meaning the battery-less sensor tags could be installed virtually anywhere in a building without the need of periodic maintenance.

“We are honored to be selected for this inaugural Resilience Solutions Grant award,” added Rinaldi. “It is a great opportunity for the technology to be further developed into actual products to make our everyday life safer, easier and more efficient.”

In addition to the Resilience Solutions Grant, four other teams were selected for the GapFund360 award, from a highly competitive pool of 25 proposals:

  • Contactless Wireless Energy Transfer: Anywhere, Anytime Charging Surfaces
    Kaushik Chowdhury, Yousof Naderi, Ufuk Muncuk, Kai Li
  • EchoPose: Smart AI Trainer by Deep Learned Visual Intelligence
    Raymond Fu, Songyao Jiang, Fuming Guo
  • Cation Spin-Engineered Superparamagnetic Mn-ferrite Nanoparticles for MRI Contrast Agents and Targeted Magnetohyperthermia Cancer Remediation
    Vincent Harris, Parisa Andalib
  • First in Animal Demonstration of Tendon/Ligament Repair and Replacement
    Jeffrey Ruberti, Adam Hacking

“The applications showcased the amazing range of research underway at Northeastern, and the selection committee was truly impressed by the number of worthy projects,” said Joel Bresler, Technology Portfolio Director for the CRI and leader of the GapFund360 initiative. “Selecting these inaugural recipients was challenging, but we trust their commercial success will demonstrate the value of gap funding at Northeastern.”

To read the full project descriptions, visit: https://www.northeastern.edu/cri/gapfund360-awardees-announced/

To learn more about the GapFund360 program, visit web.northeastern.edu/gapfund360/

To learn more about CRI, visit: https://www.northeastern.edu/cri/

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The GapFund360 program is supported by the Provost’s Office and the Office of General Counsel and overseen by CRI. The GapFund360 selection committee is composed of representatives from Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Venture Mentoring Network, Global Resilience Institute, Office of the General Counsel, Office of the Provost, and CRI.