Jan 31, 2017 by Rob Rueckert
While it seems “smart” everything is in full swing, the full realization of the Internet of Things is in essence still on standby mode. Homes are smarter than ever and virtual reality, augmented reality, personal drones and a dizzying array of wearables and medical devices flood the market, but there is still potential for more.
The possibilities are endless, and much of the technology is already baked in, just waiting to be actualized.
Augmented reality glasses from the likes of OrCam and Google have text, object and facial recognition capabilities, eye tracking and even language translation. Imagine traveling in a foreign country and being able to read signs in your native language thanks to these glasses. The same could be said for smartwatches, which could be used as a personal identification tool to authenticate devices like smart cars or homes. Smartwatches also have the potential to help combat possible life-threatening health issues and prevent future health problems.
Evidently, the technologies already exist, but are muted by the need for a reliable, steady source of power while still making these devices sleek and attractive. The majority of these devices require mobility to reach their full potential, independent of electrical outlets and not tied down by power needs. As there have been few breakthroughs to catapult battery power capacity forward, the solution doesn’t lie alone with better batteries. Pure wireless power will be the driving force behind propelling these transformative experiences generated by IoT.
Currently, there are four primary technology categories for delivering wireless power: magnetic resonance, laser, ultrasound/ultrawave and radio frequency.Wireless, magnetic resonance must be near-to-touching the wired charger in order to work. Genuine wireless contenders provide power from a distance, with no strings, wires or cables attached.
Laser-based wireless power transfer delivers arguably the most powerful of all three of the real wireless options. Several companies offer this service, including Wi-Charge and LaserMotive (which has a long-term contact with NASA). However, significant weaknesses make this option the least viable for consumers. Laser-based wireless power requires a direct, uninterrupted line of sight from the laser pointer to the object being charged in order to transfer power. The laser beam also can cause potential harm to humans, pets or other objects that come into its path.
On the other hand, ultrasound (or ultrawave) wireless has the advantage of being considerably safer for people and objects. However, ultrasound also requires a direct path, and the power of the ultrasound waves is considerably weaker than laser wireless. Ultrasound has yet to be fully vetted for power transmission in commercial settings, though companies like uBeam have high-profile supporters like Mark Cuban and Peter Thiel backing the initiatives.
The most promising of wireless power technology seems to be radio frequency. With its apparent lack of serious problems and its unique strengths, radio frequency has the greatest long-term potential to become the market’s leading source of wireless power to fuel the Internet of Things. No significant evidence exists depicting radio frequency as posing a threat to humans. The human body consists mostly of water and radio waves do not transmit energy through water. Radio frequency is also highly configurable. Devices sending and receiving radio frequency power can easily be equipped with regulators, enabling control of how much power will be emitted and received.
However, the greatest, most unique strength of radio frequency wireless power transmission is the absence of a line-of-sight requirement. Radio frequencies can bounce off walls, take indirect paths and transmit through many surfaces. A radio frequency could effectively charge a device sitting in a purse or a pocket. We’ve already seen it actively adopted in other use cases, as with Wi-Fi transmission.
Accordingly, the government currently regulates how much radio power can be transmitted, as it is not yet known how much of this power the human body can absorb without causing harm to the system. Future research may modify the amount of radio frequency power transmittal allowed, creating opportunities if levels are increased.
In the meantime, companies are busy working to further develop this technology. Energous completed a $24 million small cap IPO years ago. While they have had a working prototype for years, some product limitations have prevented commercial adoption. The company is frequently linked to rumors of a collaboration with Apple to develop remote radio frequency wireless charging.
Ossia has raised more than $35 million. Its core technology, Cota, can simultaneously charge multiple devices from a distance of 30 feet without line of sight.
Recently acquired by Australian public company Aurum, Inc. for $16 million, Humavox prides itself on having very small parts, meaning the tech can be integrated into small devices such as hearing aids. Freevolt takes radio frequency charging a step further, creating power using existing radio frequencies in the air, rather than with a charging transmitter. It essentially turns Wi-Fi, TV and mobile networks into charging sources for any equipped device. Because it doesn’t have a charging station, the amount of power it can transmit is lower than its competitors, but interesting all the same.
Ultimately, wireless power charging, particularly radio frequency, has the potential to offer a seamless charging experience that minimizes disruption in life. As wireless power expands its influence, the Internet of Things will change the way we operate and carry on our daily lives. We’re just at the beginning of boundless possibilities — and it all starts with wireless.