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ECE SEMINAR: Batteries Not Included: Reimagining Computing for the Next Trillion Devices

Josiah Hester
Tuesday, March 01, 2022
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Josiah Hester Breed Chair of Design and Assistant Professor of Computer Engineering at Northwestern University

In this talk, I'd like to upend the notion that a computing system needs reliable power to support useful computation, sensing, and interaction. For decades, typical computing systems have generally assumed stable, reliable power from a battery or wall outlet. All our smart devices (i.e., wireless sensing and computing systems), from FitBits to Game Boys, have been powered by batteries. This is a problem: batteries are bulky, expensive, high-maintenance, and not sustainable for the next trillion devices. Instead of relying on energy stored in a battery, emerging devices now harvest energy from their surrounding environment; this unstable energy supply means that these devices compute intermittently through many power failures. This new paradigm of sustainable computational things has required a rethinking of hardware, software design, and tool creation- yet it has also opened up incredible new applications and domains for sustainable computing. I will discuss the broad implications of what a battery-free, trillion device IoT means, and what the next decade of research in the area looks like: devices that are user-facing and interactive, devices that novices can easily program, and devices that can perform practical inference. I'll describe these advances in the context of motivating applications our lab has worked on: including late-breaking work on smart face masks, a system that enables novices to program intermittently powered devices with Python or Block-based languages, and the world's first battery-free Nintendo Game Boy.


Josiah Hester is the Breed Chair of Design and Assistant Professor of Computer Engineering at Northwestern University. He works in intermittent computing and battery-free embedded computing systems. He applies his work to health wearables, interactive devices, and large-scale sensing for sustainability and conservation, supported by multiple grants from the NSF, NIH, and DARPA. He won a Sloan Fellow in Computer Science and his NSF CAREER in 2022. He was named one of Popular Science's Brilliant Ten, won the American Indian Science and Engineering Society Most Promising Scientist/Engineer Award and the 3M Non-tenured Faculty Award in 2021. His work has received four Best Paper type Awards and seven Best Presentation type Awards, and been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, BBC, Popular Science, Communications of the ACM, the Guinness Book of World Records, among many others

PASSCODE: 234619

Contact: Matthew Novik