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III-V solar cells soar with birds

A new technology incorporating III-V solar cells and MEMS technology can be implemented in tracking birds
STMicroelectronics and the University of Amsterdam (UvA) Faculty of Science have developed a sophisticated bird-tracking system developed by the university.

The tracker contains sensors that measure both the air temperature and the internal temperature of the device. A lithium battery, charged by a highly efficient compound semiconductor triple-junction solar cell, provides power to the system, and a ZigBee transceiver manages wireless data communication to and from the device.



Multi-junction solar cells contain several p-n junctions. Each junction is tuned to a different wavelength of light, reducing one of the largest inherent sources of losses, and thereby increasing efficiency.

The chip also uses advanced MEMS sensing technology from ST.

Weighing as little as a 20 euro cent coin or a US quarter and smaller than a car key so as not to impede the birds' flight, the tracking systems are sophisticated data loggers that can be attached to the back of the birds. The trackers enable valuable scientific research on bird behaviour by measuring GPS position every 3 seconds.

In addition to the bird's location, determined via the GPS, the tracker collects acceleration and direction data from ST's digital compass that integrates low-power, high-performance motion and magnetic sensing in a miniature form factor. The MEMS chip monitors the direction and vertical/horizontal orientation of the animal and can determine the body angle of birds flying in a crosswind.

Data from the trackers is currently being shared among bird-research institutes and biologists to verify computer models that predict bird behaviour and migration patterns.

"MEMS technologies are finding their way into a broad range of applications and only ST has the breadth of technologies available to serve as a one-stop supplier," says Benedetto Vigna, Executive Vice President and General Manager of ST's Analogue, MEMS and Sensors Group. "The light weight, low power, and high accuracy of the MEMS make it ideal for innovative projects like UvA's bird tracking system to study avian migration and behaviour."

"Animals have a lot to teach us and, especially as the Earth's climate changes, there are many projects that we can undertake to study animal behaviour and migration patterns," adds Ir. Willem Bouten of UvA. "STMicroelectronics is a strong partner for us in developing technologies that are suitable and adaptable to researching challenging problems that could help us address the effects of global warming and land use change."

 

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