An international research team, led by Australia’s Monash University, has developed what they are calling a “revolutionary triboelectric-based disc” that they claim can control smart devices and enhance home security.

The device, activated by the swipe of a finger, can handle eight smart devices and contains a six-digit blind password authentication system. Completely self-powered, the device can also harvest and store energy from light sources.

The technology resides inside a self-powered triboelectric-based disc, which can control smart devices and enhance home security, and the researchers claim this tech, “could be the death-knell for traditional electrical switches and house keys in the post-pandemic, environmentally sustainable world.”

Researchers at Monash University and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have spent the better part of two years working on a solution for human-machine interfaces to control home systems and appliances in response to the rapid growth in smart home technology. The research team has developed a solar-powered disc that has the capacity to handle eight smart home devices, such as TVs, radios and music players, using Bluetooth.

Their device, activated by the swipe of a finger, can also protect home and business owners against would be thieves through a six-digit blind password authentication system. There are more than 262,000 password combinations based on this configuration.

And weighing just 47 grams, the compact size of the device enables it to be attached to walls, windows, tables and desks for wirelessly controlling applications. It is also completely self-powered. The solar cell can harvest energy from natural and artificial light sources, such as sunlights, downlights, or table lamps. The energy is then stored in a rechargeable battery to power the electronic circuit.

“Smart home technology has been extensively developed and is capturing more attention from researchers. However, digital devices used for smart home connectivity have little or no built-in security, which makes them vulnerable to cyber-attack,” Associate Professor Mehmet Yuce, lead researcher in Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering at Monash University, said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our work and home lives forever. A user-friendly interface system to control our home systems and appliances, and to keep our homes secure, has never been more critical.”

Yuce added, “The technology can also be useful to secure abandoned offices and workstations by enabling an extra layer of security because of this pandemic.”

The key to the device’s success is its ‘sliding’ triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG)-based control interface, which generates 3-bit binary-reflected Gray-code. This is developed by integrating copper electrodes, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) film, a photovoltaic cell, and electronic signal processing circuits.

The Gray-code houses eight unique sensing patterns with each pattern used to control one individual smart device. To switch on an appliance, users move their finger across a sensing pattern in one direction. Users perform the same motion in the opposite direction to switch off the same appliance.

Up to 50 billion internet-connected devices are expected to be in use across the world by the end of 2020, with this figure anticipated to reach 100 billion by 2030. Developing such secure devices to connect and control our daily electronics devices will enable smarter and safer living environments and processes.

The research titled: ‘Self-powered control interface based on Gray code with hybrid triboelectric and photovoltaics energy harvesting for IoT smart home and access control applications’ was led by Associate Professor Mehmet Yuce, with support from Chunkai Qiu and Fan Wu (Monash University), and Chengkuo Lee (National University of Singapore).