UCF Team Effort Garners Award from NSF’s New APEX Program

Collaboration and innovation continue to thrive at UCF. A recent example is a winning proposal submitted by Professor Reza Abdolvand and the UCF Office of Technology Transfer (OTT). Together, the team secured the new Allowable Patent Expenses (APEX) award from the National Science Foundation. NSF recently rolled out the supplemental funding under its Partnerships for Innovation – Technology Translation (PFI-TT) program. The APEX award assists current PFI-TT grantees in their technology commercialization efforts by funding qualified university patent expenses.

“This is the first time that UCF has received APEX funding to defray patent expenses,” said Raju Nagaiah, the OTT assistant director who is managing the technology for patenting and commercialization. “It is going to cover the expenses related to filing and prosecution of the invention,” Nagaiah said. In 2020/2021, Abdolvand secured $249,587 in PFI-TT funding to support his ongoing research to develop piezo-semiconductor acoustoelectric microdevices. Under the PFI-TT award, Abdolvand’s research team developed an invention for ultra-low power and miniaturized wireless transceivers.

According to OTT Director Svetlana Shtrom, “The APEX supplemental funding will reduce the strain on the university’s intellectual property budget and will allow us to protect a greater number of promising new innovations.” She explained that applying for a patent can be quite expensive and involves contracting attorneys specializing in patenting such technologies.

Once the innovation was developed, Abdolvand and co-inventor Hakhamanesh Mansoorzare worked with OTT to file a patent application in July 2022 with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Then in September, the collaboration continued between the research and OTT teams, resulting in a $49,916 APEX supplemental award from NSF to cover the patent expenses. The researchers have also submitted a second invention disclosure to OTT for patent protection.

An Innovation to Expand the IoT

To meet the growing energy needs of the internet of things (IoT) and wireless communication systems, the inventors developed a completely passive chip-scale scheme for converting radio frequency (RF) signals into direct current (DC). The technology can reduce the electronic industry’s reliance on batteries and broaden the expansion of the internet of things (IoT) and its energy needs.

Today’s wireless systems rely on batteries, whose energy supply will soon be outpaced by the growth of communication data and devices in the IoT. The growth is also limiting availability in the radio frequency (RF) spectrum. One reason is that today’s systems use part of their limited power budget to sense/monitor the amount of signal power they transmit and receive instead of solely amplifying the signal. This sensing is both for regulation purposes and maintaining transceiver performance.

To solve these issues, the UCF researchers developed a method that integrates power/spectrum sensing capabilities for ultra-low power applications. Since it supports a completely passive module for RF sensing, the invention would eliminate the need for power-hungry RF sensing modules.

“Over the past several years, NSF has been increasingly extending its reach from funding basic science to supporting impactful commercialization of the scientific discoveries produced from such NSF funding,” said Abdolvand. “The new APEX funding mechanism is a perfect example of NSF’s commitment to helping academic researchers in turning their ideas into commercial products that impact society. We are grateful that NSF has chosen our work for such a wonderful opportunity,” he said.

UCF Professor Reza Abdolvand (right) and co-inventor Dr. Hakhamanesh Mansoorzare (left).

When asked about the win, Mansoorzare said: “I am truly excited that this technology, which is an offshoot of my Ph.D., could help towards a more sustainable future. Thanks to the support from NSF and the timely assistance of OTT for protecting this intellectual property, now we can devote ourselves to the development of this technology with peace of mind.”

The invention harvests ambient energy, specifically RF electromagnetic waves, the most abundant form of communication among IoT nodes and hubs. RF to DC conversion operates in a sub-millimeter footprint and within a lithographically defined frequency range. To address the spectrum availability issue, the researchers enabled the invention to handle more intelligent data transmission between the IoT nodes and hubs so that the IoT node “understands” the frequency occupancy in its vicinity.

In an example application, wakeup radios (which remain dormant and ideally consume zero power before being activated) could be built with the UCF zero-power RF-to-DC conversion scheme and scavenge energy from the RF power radiated by nearby modules. Furthermore, the radiated RF power, otherwise wasted, could be scavenged by the module and stored in a capacitor or a battery.

Abdolvand leads the UCF Dynamic Microsystems Lab, which focuses on extending and applying hybrid integrated microsystems to diverse technology areas, including radio frequency (RF), biomedical, and wireless sensing. The lab provides expertise in designing and fabricating microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).

For more information about the invention, see the technology sheet.