In recent years, device manufacturers have capitalized on the popularity of “smart” devices among consumers and connected many ordinary products to the internet. The success of voice assistants has increased the adoption of connected security systems, locks and cameras, and the majority of U.S. consumers now own more than one IoT device. Many U.S. households also include smart security cameras, door locks, thermostats, and sensors so homeowners can check on their homes when they are away, control the temperature, or even see in real-time who is ringing the doorbell.
Regardless of their application, all smart devices share two common features: they are connected to the Internet and they are powered. Wi-Fi and cellular have not only connected us to the Internet but also allowed us to do this in wire-free fashion. While it has taken time to achieve connectivity that rivals the speed of a wired connection, it’s hard to ever imagine going back to a hard-wired world to access the internet. Even though the connectivity challenges are mostly solved, power delivery still leaves a lot to be desired. The limitations of batteries and the restrictive nature of hard-wiring devices has slowed down deployment of potentially exciting use cases. The question we should be asking ourselves is: “What would it take to solve the power delivery problem?”
With Wires Come Restrictions
The current generation of smart devices on the market offer great features, yet, at the same time, is severely limited. For consumers, the need for professional wiring typically comes at a steep monetary and aesthetic price and self-installed battery-operated products require constant battery replacement. Both options place strict limitations on smart home devices: batteries limit the amount of footage a security camera can store. Power cords force smart speakers and other devices to be located near a wall outlet, while it may be more desirable and functional to place them elsewhere in a room, such as on a coffee table.
Manufacturers feel this pain as well. Product developers are forced to choose between power cords and batteries. Corded products include all the intended features but are tethered to the wall. Battery powered devices face a constant tradeoff between short battery life and functionality. The limitations posed by need to charge devices contradict the purpose of connected products, not only hindering broader adoption but also restricting the new products that can be brought to market.
The Next Generation of Smart Devices
New smart devices are introduced to the market each week, and there is no shortage of ideas in the industry. Whether truly new innovations being developed or adding “smarts” to a traditional “dumb” product, consumers now expect the connected lifestyle. But beyond adding this connectivity to ordinary devices, how can manufacturers avoid market stagnation and instead usher in the next generation of smart home products?
To create new experiences for smart devices manufacturers must consider new ways of power delivery. There are two approaches to take; replacing disposable batteries with wireless charging or turning wired devices into wire-free versions. Both can be achieved with long-range wireless power
Much like smart homes were considered a futuristic luxury just a decade ago, long-range wireless power was considered science-fiction. But the reality is, this technology is ready, and manufacturers are determining the best ways to include this feature in their product offerings. Though companies offer different ways to cut the smart home power cord, product managers must carefully weigh the technologies to choose the best option and select the appropriate devices for implementation.
While there are several options in the market, radio frequency, infrared light, and ultrasound being the most common. Product managers must first and foremost evaluate these terms based on safety and performance: delivered powered and the distance from power source to the device. Government regulatory agencies, such as the FCC, FDA, and independent certification bodies including UL, have granted safety certifications to technologies using infrared (IR) light, and limited forms of radio frequency (RF) power delivery have also received FCC approval
As a wireless power delivery method, infrared light can safely deliver over several Watts of energy to a device that is a few meters away, providing much higher power than any other long-range technology. This energy can power smart phones and smart devices and gives manufacturers a safe way to make their products more convenient and appealing to consumers. Functionality that was discarded for the sake of battery life can now be added back. Devices that were permanently wired to the wall can now be free to roam with their user.
For perspective, we’ve compared several common products in our homes based on the amount of power each requires. We then added various wireless charging technology including contact charging (QI), RF and IR power sources and plotted the amount of energy they can theoretically deliver at various distances. It would appear the for long-range wireless power, IR might be the technology of choice. Of course, wireless power is not a universal cure for all our power needs. Electric vehicles and large appliances, for instance, cannot be charged today from a distance, but long-range wireless power is a viable and valuable option for billions of smaller connected devices. The figure below is a chart comparing wireless power delivery options and the associated user experience.
Infrared light technology opens the door for a plethora of connected devices to be wire- and battery-free. For phones, smart thermostats, locks, security systems, speakers and voice assistants, wireless power will grant consumers the freedom to place devices in any location within proximity of a transmitter, simplify installations and eliminate the need to replace or recharge batteries.
Long-range wireless power is the one feature lacking in the market today and the key to the next generation of smart home devices. When manufacturers implement this technology into devices, smart home devices will finally provide the convenience and simplicity they promise. Indeed, life’s better without wires: just like we eliminated the data cord, it’s time to eliminate the power cord.
About the author
Ori Mor is the Founder of and VP of Research & Development for Wi-Charge. Prior to Wi-Charge, Mr. Mor was Founder and CEO of Appoxee Mobile Technologies, a leading SaaS mobile engagement platform (acquired by Teradata NYSE: TDC). Before Appoxee, Mr. Mor served 11 years in the Electronic Research Department (ERD), a top research and development unit of the Israel Defense Forces. During his time with the ERD Mr. Mor held various R&D and management positions including large scale project manager, and R&D Section Head.
Mr. Mor holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, Magna Cum Laude, from Tel-Aviv University and a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, Magna Cum Laude, from Tel-Aviv University. He is a laureate of the Israel Defense Award (2008).