The case for energy harvesting on wildlife in flight

Michael W. Shafer, Robert Maccurdy, J. Ryan Shipley, David Winkler, Christopher G. Guglielmo, Ephrahim Garcia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The confluence of advancements in microelectronic components and vibrational energy harvesting has opened the possibility of remote sensor units powered solely from the motion of their hosts. There are numerous applications of such systems, including the development of modern wildlife tracking/data-logging devices. These 'bio-logging' devices are typically mass-constrained because they must be carried by an animal. Thus, they have historically traded scientific capability for operational longevity due to restrictions on battery size. Recently, the precipitous decrease in the power requirements of microelectronics has been accompanied by advancements in the area of piezoelectric vibrational energy harvesting. These energy harvesting devices are now capable of powering the type of microelectronic circuits used in bio-logging devices. In this paper we consider the feasibility of employing these vibrational energy harvesters on flying vertebrates for the purpose of powering a bio-logging device. We show that the excess energy available from birds and bats could be harvested without adversely affecting their overall energy budget. We then present acceleration measurements taken on flying birds in a flight tunnel to understand modulation of flapping frequency during steady flight. Finally, we use a recently developed method of estimating the maximum power output from a piezoelectric energy harvester to determine the amount of power that could be practically harvested from a flying bird. The results of this analysis show that the average power output of a piezoelectric energy harvester mounted to a bird or bat could produce more than enough power to run a bio-logging device. We compare the power harvesting capabilities to the energy requirements of an example system and conclude that vibrational energy harvesting on flying birds and bats is viable and warrants further study, including testing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number025031
JournalSmart Materials and Structures
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • avian
  • bat
  • bio-logger
  • energy harvesting
  • piezoelectric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Signal Processing
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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