By Evan Ackerman
Trees. All they do is stand there and obscure otherwise dramatic views of forests. Why shouldn’t we expect them to do something helpful to humanity, for a change? MIT feels exactly this way, and has figured out how to wire up trees with sensors, tapping directly into their roots for free electricity. Voltree Power is currently working on commercializing the concept:
Voltree’s “bioenergy converter” has been integrated into a power module that does not depend on wind, light, heat gradients or mechanical movement and is environmentally benign to produce and run. It parasitically harvests metabolic energy from any large plant without significantly harming it and the useful lifetime of the device is only limited by the lifetime of the host. It is weather resistant, completely quiet and has no heat or noise signatures making it also ideal for various security applications, currently under development.
The sensors are modular and can measure pretty much anything, from temperature and humidity to radiation. The electricity comes from some kind of voodoo magic generated through the difference in pH between tree roots and the surrounding soil. It’s not much, but it adds up, and it’s enough to allow the tree to transmit its data wirelessly through a mesh network of other trees to a base station up to four times a day. The tree is also able to send emergency messages, such as “OW OW OW I’M ON FIRE COME PUT ME OUT HUURRRYYY!!!”