by Barbara Simpson
The FET Flagship pilot "Guardian Angels for a Smarter Life" will develop enabling technologies for electronic personal assistants. Joining expertise from 13 different European countries, the Guardian Angel Project endeavours to take energy harvesting, communication, sensing and computation to an exciting level of performance and efficiency.
Figure 1: Coloured SEM images of a suspended carbon nanotube transistor.
Disruptive technological development is needed to fulfil the bold vision of Guardian Angel project leaders Prof Adrian Ionescu (EPF Lausanne) and Prof Christofer Hierold (ETH Zurich). Nanosensors which will be intuitive to use, convenient as well as energy-efficient, are intended to guard our safety and monitor our wellbeing, extend our range of sense perception and provide intelligent advice. These intelligent, autonomous systems feature sensing, computation, and communication with characteristics well beyond human capabilities.
Ultimately they will assist – as our modern day guardian angels, so to speak - for example elderly people to maintain their quality of life even in the case of a continuous reduction of mobility. They could help individuals to prematurely recognize environmental threats and dangerous situations. And they will feature a wireless networking capability to increase the information database far beyond the radius of action of the individual.
Figure 2: Hysteresis-free carbon nanotube transistor fabricated by ultraclean shadow masking. Adapted from M. Muoth et al., Nature Nanotech., 2010.
Smart advice and prevention
"Our technology platform will create the ultimate smart device that everyone will be able to benefit from," said Adrian Ionescu. Some of the main applications of Guardian Angels will be centered on concepts of prevention of harm in areas like bio-medical, security, etc. but also on smart advice based on sensor fusion and inter-device communication. It is further envisioned that these personal companions directly interact with the human neurological system to allow for man-machine interfacing, eg for disabled persons. The device will enlarge the sensorial abilities of individuals and will provide access to a useful augmented reality while preserving full control by the individuals of their Guardian Angels and a high degree of security of information.
The ambitious objective: "zero power"
For these applications, the Guardian Angels device will have to be small, intuitive to use, comprise a multitude of sensor and communication functions – and foremost, achieve all its functions with an absolute minimum of energy consumption. The scientific and technological challenge of the Guardian Angels project is thus related to the development of a full ultra-low energy innovation chain: from materials and devices, to the heterogeneous system integration, as well as software and communication techniques enabling drastic energy consumption reduction compared to existing state-of-the-art technologies.
Moreover, the devices will scavenge for energy in very diverse environments. Therefore, disruptive scientific progress is needed in the field of novel concepts and technologies for energy harvesting (eg solar, thermal, movement, electromagnetic, etc) to propel European research forward in the next 10 years. Christofer Hierold points out: “We will focus our research on highly energy efficient systems mainly for Guardian Angels applications; but we expect that our research will also yield impact for all other areas in Information Technology”.
A vision beyond anything achieved so far
The high complexity, key functions and enabling technologies envisioned in this project are unique and go beyond any system complexity that has been achieved so far. The goal of the Guardian Angels flagship is to demonstrate the feasibility and functionality of systems-of-systems, by visionary concepts and targeted research towards applications dealing with the concept of a smarter life.
Adrian Ionescu, EPF Lausanne, Switzerland
Christofer Hierold, ETH Zurich, Switzerland