Each year, over 15 billion batteries are discarded into landfills. Batteries contain many hazardous materials like nickel, cadmium, and cobalt and corrosive acids that eventually leach into the environment and contaminate the air, water and land. It takes around 100 years for a battery to decompose. However, even after decomposition, the chemicals within the battery have an indefinite timeline, meaning they never fully decay.
Electrical engineering Ph.D. student and team lead for the project, Rahil Jain, wanted to develop a device that would limit the amount of battery use one house at a time.
Jain and his team developed Airy – a battery-less and wireless home monitoring system. Airy’s compact sensor design features a micro-generator that produces electrical energy from the mechanical impact produced in the normal operation of a door or window. When a door is opened or closed, a unique code is sent to a Wi-Fi hub, which then relays the action to the user through a mobile app.
“One of the coolest things about Airy is that the sensors are battery-less,” Jain said. “I am terrible at replacing batteries and often forget only to find the hard way. Above the convenience aspect, I cherish the feeling that by using these battery-less sensors, I am helping the environment by keeping (some) batteries away from the landfill.”
Airy was the runner up at the 2017 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC), hosted by the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. The competition recognizes the work of student entrepreneurs, stating that “innovative and entrepreneurial students are our best hope for solving some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.” The Airy team received Herbert B. Jones Foundation $10,000 cash prize. In addition to Jain, the Airy team also consists of UW EE senior Jerry Wang, sophomore Khang Lee and master’s student Charanya Parameswaran.
For Jain, Airy is an addition to a growing legacy of societal innovation. This past fall, Jain received third place at the inaugural GIX Innovation Competition for his SmartDix global health device. In addition, his product Hook, a device hub that controls lights and appliances inexpensively (utilizing top tools like Amazon Echo), received the Jones and Foster Accelerator Award, the Accenture Best Consumer Product Idea Award and second prize at last year’s Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.
For a device that’s name means “carefree” and alludes to the environment, Airy is as aptly named as it is designed.
The Airy team appeared on the Earth Day special on KOMO 4 News to discuss Airy.