By Mark Hopgood
From the average suburban home to the assembly line, “smart” technology is enhancing seemingly every corner of our lives. But while Internet of Things (IoT) technology seems to be everywhere we look, keeping these devices powered remains a challenge, which unless solved, may ultimately hold back a lot of the most exciting potential IoT use cases from becoming a reality.
With more than 30.7 billion IoT devices set to flood the market by 2020 – almost double the 15.4 billion IoT devices recorded in 2015, and less than half of the 75.4 billion projected for 2025 – powering all of this technology using the alkaline batteries and wired chargers common today will simply be untenable. It seems inevitable then that IoT devices which communicate wirelessly will become most effective by being powered wirelessly. The question is, when will such charging-at-a-distance solutions be available? The answer is not as far away as you may think…
Dialog is working closely with our partners at Energous to help bring the DA4100 RF-transmit IC to mass-market this year. A complete System-on-Chip, the DA4100 enables highly integrated, smaller, cost-effective WattUp® wireless power transmitter systems. Such a solution may prove to be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT as it can deliver enough power over-the-air to sustain a whole range of devices from a range of millimeters to meters.
The home of tomorrow shouldn’t be characterized by cords
In the home, for instance, the number of devices that require either batteries or cables today regularly can exceed triple digits. This includes sensors that may support security systems or even safety alarms for fire or carbon monoxide – technology that can only save lives and ensure safety if it is constantly powered. If consumers are really going to be embracing almost double the number of IoT devices in the home over the next five years, they’ll only be able to do so if they aren’t beholden to power strips congesting every wall outlet.
This is an especially critical factor when you look into the economics of homeownership, as more Americans today are by and large renting rather than owning, which places limitations on how much say they have in modernizing their residence. For individuals who want to incorporate IoT thermostats and doorbells to lower their utility costs and improve security, for instance, wireless charging empowers these individuals to use the latest technology without hacking into the wiring of their rented space.
Industry 4.0 will only be realized with wireless power management
The implications may be even greater in the industrial space, as loss of power to a single sensor that plays a part in the workflow can shut down an entire factory. While industrial-grade sensors today cost on average roughly $50, the wiring to keep them powered can exceed $1,000. These wired sensors don’t generally have backup power, making it so that even sensors that are characterized as wireless because of their ability to interact using Bluetooth low energy still rely on potentially faulty wires to stay active.
Wireless power in this setting would help Industry 4.0 really take hold, along with helping businesses streamline their power management infrastructure costs. Wireless charging can introduce redundancy, as multiple wireless power transmitters can be placed in the range of each sensor, ensuring that should one fail, another transmitter can step in as backup.
Wireless charging will inevitably need to have the same ubiquity, safety and range that characterize modern WiFi capabilities. Energous has already established regulatory approval in the US for close-range wireless charging (Near Field), immediately benefiting such IoT devices as wearables, hearables, etc. They are now well on the way to securing Mid Field approval, growing the distance between transmitter and IoT receivers to multiple feet and thus enabling more and more IoT applications to benefit from at-distance wireless charging. Ultimately we’ll see full room charging launched, with support for up to 5 meters of at-a-distance charging (Far Field). We’re working hard to continually push the benchmark ever higher for wireless charging capabilities through our partnership with the Energous.