Wi-Charge, a company using infrared wireless technology for over-the-air power charging of electronics devices, has landed a partnership with Toho Technology Corporation, a major Japanese manufacturer of electronics for factory equipment, Fierce Electronics has learned.
The deal could be key to seeing wireless power charging capabilities embedded in factory floor sensors, radios, IoT devices, and more. In an exclusive interview with Fierce Electronics, Ori Mor, co-founder and chief business officer at Wi-Charge, said, “This is our first collaboration in the industrial automation ecosystem. We’ve seen demand in the past from this industry (especially predictive maintenance and asset tracking), but despite being very attractive [as a market], we didn’t want to reduce our focus by supporting another industry.”
Asked about how significant the deal will be to Wi-Charge’s ability to gain broader traction in the manufacturing market, Mor mused, “Time will tell. But the difference between zero to one is infinity, whereas the difference between 1 to 10 is only 10x. 0 to 1 is the heavy lifting, and in this respect it’s super significant.”
The partnership calls for Toho to embed Wi-Charge wireless charging technology into its solutions, including sensors and radio devices, with the goal of improving efficiency and productivity for Toho’s customers, which include other makers of sensors and radios, as well as the end users of those devices. Wi-Charge’s technology can enable this by giving them an alternative to connecting factory floor devices and equipment to conventional power charging sources, a process often hampered by available space on the floor, the design of the equipment requiring charging, and other factors.
The need for power charging alternatives is increasing as factories adopt more automation, and are deploying more sensors and radios to help them monitor their equipment and processes, often in the name of proactive and predictive maintenance. Wi-Charge, which is based in Israel, also said Toho and its customers, who are mainly in Japan and throughout Asia, will gain greater flexibility in how they design and arrange factory floors because charging sources will not be tied to fixed locations on the floors. Wi-Charge’s technology has a 30-foot range.
“Wi-Charge completely changes how electronics can be designed and deployed on manufacturing floors, which will have a big impact on our industry,” said Noby Fujiki, Chief Technology Officer, Toho. “We are honored and excited to collaborate with Wi-Charge as they share our passion and commitment to innovation and to reimagining how technology breakthroughs like over-the-air wireless charging can have a deep impact on technologies, markets and society.”
Wi-Charge’s infrared wireless technology delivers an OTA beam to a device that needs to be charged, which the company has argued is more efficient than wireless power charging solutions that use radio frequency technology, and which spread a wireless signal across a larger area. Though the company has made a couple of its own OTA-chargeable devices, like a cordless electric toothbrush and a connected shelf display for retail stores, its primary aim is to license its technology to other firms. That is what it is doing with Toho in Japan, and the arrangement is an example of how Wi-Charge will pursue other partnerships around the world.
“We will nurture similar partnerships in other places in the world with companies that have a similar DNA to Toho,” Mor said. “This includes market expertise, active innovation, strong power of execution and knowledge of the space and its needs very intimately.”
Mor said he sees a rising role for wireless charging as more industries are moving to Industry 4.0 and Industry 5.0 models. “Industry 4.0 is focused on digitization and automation, and Industry 5.0 seeks to combine the strengths of both humans and machines for a more collaborative and sustainable manufacturing process,” he said. “Both are heavily reliant on feedback from the automated manufacturing lines. Feedback requires smart probing and smart sensing. In order to deploy these freely, the combination of energy harvested based sensors (ultra-low-power devices) and wireless power-based sensors (high-power sensors) is crucial. On top of this, other micro/small robots can enjoy the freedom of power, but this is not the immediate target.”