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Researcher Focus: Emerging Technology

Interview conducted by Paul Glanville

Professor Yonas Tadesse from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas talks about Energy Harvesting from Human Motion

Learn more about this research through the 2013 ASME Congress Proceedings: Rotary Multimodal Energy Harvesting Device.

Energy harvesting is a hot topic right now, with the explosion of internet-enabled technology beyond the traditional computing hardware we have a lot more gadgets requiring power than we used to. Whether it is the soon-to-be released Apple Watch as a flashy example of “wearable technology” or remote sensors monitoring our buildings and infrastructure, a constant challenge to extending the web of our “internet of things” is keeping these devices powered that are often out of reach from our electricity grid. Energy harvesting, generating power at or near the point of use for these devices, is the solution to this problem using available resources: light, temperature or pressure gradients, or in the case of research from UT-Dallas, human motion. In this interview, Professor Yonas Tadesse describes how his team investigated a method of generating power from the linear motion of our arms and legs, in the hope that this rotary multimodal energy harvesting device can serve our power-hungry gadgets.

How did you initially get into your research concerning energy harvesting technologies and their integration with human motion?

Initially, my graduate advisor was the one who inspired me to pursue in this research area. I was a graduate student at the Center for Intelligent Material Systems and Structures (CIMSS) at Virginia Tech where extensive researches are carried out, and I continued doing the research by integrating with various systems at UT Dallas.

Your research has both experimental and analytical results.  How challenging was it to validate one set of results with the other?

The most interesting part of the study was the design of the energy harvesting system. It combines two transduction mechanisms in one system, and requires initial oscillation to continuously generate power from a vibrating source. We realized that some of the modeling didn’t account for the practical scenario as a result, we made some design changes. Usually modelling ignores some of the practical aspect and may provide slightly different results particularly for interrelated systems.

What work remains before you complete this R&D program?

We need to study the parametric relationship. For example, what happens if the size of our device is reduced to 100mm, 50mm and MEMS scale? This is what we are investigating right now, both theoretically and experimentally. There are several researches that need to be done on this area especially in the design, manufacturing, modeling, testing and integration. I would like to mention that we are using the rapid prototyping (3D printing) technology to fabricate our prototype. This makes our progress faster.

What other applications of energy harvesting interest you?

I am also interested in energy harvesting from ocean waves, solar, energy harvesting from microorganisms such as bacteria and algae. These sources have numerous applications in various systems.

What other research projects unrelated to energy harvesting from human motion are you currently engaging in, or if this is your focus what is your next project?

Right now, I am working in various areas in humanoid robotics, biomimetics, smart materials and structures. My next projects include works in humanoid robots for use in healthcare, rehabilitation and rescue mission. In addition, I am working on biomimetic and biorobotics, smart materials synthesis and modeling.

When did you first realize you wanted to become an engineer, and not just an engineer but a researcher, one that looks for solutions to the tough questions?

Initially, I had an interest to be a medical doctor. I think I decided to become an engineer during my first year in undergraduate program. I decided to become an engineering researcher– the fearless engineer that attempts to make anything when I was involved in the humanoid research. Humanoid research attempts to recreate humans. When I attended a robotic show, I said to myself-“Oh this is really great and I want to spend my entire life in this area of research”.

What best practices would you offer an early career engineer about being successful in their careers, mentoring and volunteering for their profession—whether it’s an ASME committee, or being a STEM advocate for what they believe in?

To be successful, one has to develop critical thinking and self-learning. People will like your ideas if you come up with new stuff all the time. One essential component is participation in various professional activities, which will develop the two aspects.

Overall what has been your experience with ASME?

Every time I go to an ASME conference, I come back with new energy, new ideas, and a new plan for an upgrade of my career. It is a large gathering of professionals that link highly experienced professionals to young ones. I started my involvement with IMECE by participating in conference presentations. I then became a reviewer, session chair, and topic organizer. I will continue attending and participating in the various activities.

Professor Yonas Tadesse has published papers on The ASME Digital Collection, including the following from the 2013 ASME Congress Proceedings (IMECE2013): Rotary Multimodal Energy Harvesting Device.

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