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The Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem is rapidly and incessantly expanding, with an ever-increasing number of connected devices thanks to the diffusion of smart technologies, the transformation and digitization processes created by Industry 4.0, and the innovations introduced in different industrial and commercial sectors, such as retail.
Energous Corporation developed the WattUp technology, which supports both contact and distance charging in a single ecosystem. Holding over 200 patents, Energous develops silicon-based wireless power transfer (WPT) technology and specialized reference designs for clients, while offering regulatory support, a solid supply chain, quality assurance, and sales and technical support.
By creating an RF-based wireless power network, WattUp enables higher power transmission for the rapidly growing IoT ecosystem. The company’s technology also allows for the secure delivery of power without any distance restrictions of higher power levels to IoT and other connected devices, like electronic shelf labels and RF-based asset tracking.
For consumer electronics, medical devices, retail, industrial/commercial IoT, automotive, and industrial RF-based charging technologies, WattUp offers improvements in power, efficiency, freedom of movement and overall cost.
Energous has also implemented its solutions in the sports technology market. In collaboration with Energous, Catapult, the world leader in sports technology solutions for top teams, developed the football of the future with an integrated tracker that can charge wirelessly. Most recently, the football has been showcased at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
New approval granted in Korea
In 2021, Energous was granted the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Part 15 approval for unlimited distance over-the-air (OTA) wireless charging, following previous approval received in Europe. With those approvals, which were the first in the world for this type of technology, Energous achieved wireless power transfer not only over short distances, but also over longer distances.
The company stated that it would also like to obtain regulatory approval in other countries, aware that introducing technologies in other countries would entail the need to address many government regulatory issues.
The wave of global approvals for Energous’ technology, with similar certifications in China, India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, was confirmed by the recent regulatory approval of its 1W WattUp PowerBridge transmitter technology in South Korea for unlimited wireless power distance transmission for IoT applications.
“We have just announced the regulatory approval received in South Korea for our PowerBridge transmitter technology and we are going to grow more this coming year,” said Energous CEO Cesar Johnston. “We are already working to obtain certification in Japan, and once we get that certification, we will be able to open other markets for our technology. Energous’ global approvals are driven by the company’s expertise, semiconductor portfolio, antenna technology and solution flexibility.”
With the help of the 1W WattUp PowerBridges transmitter, which can wirelessly charge multiple devices at once, manufacturers can create cordless, battery-free and fully waterproof sensors, smart tags, asset trackers, and other IoT applications used in industrial, retail, enterprise and healthcare markets.
Thanks to the amount of linked IoT devices, which will more than triple over the next three years from around 12 billion devices to roughly 40 billion devices by 2025 according to predictions from analyst firm IDC, not only can Energous deliver power, but it can also utilize the devices as data links. IDC predicts that by 2025, IoT spending in the Asia Pacific region will total $437 billion and increase at a rate of over 12% annually, with China, Korea and India accounting for more than three-fourths of this total.
“We have taken a different direction over the past year, which is very focused on IoT applications,” Johnston said. “On RFID tags, we have a partnership with Williot, and we see that as a tremendous advantage.”
Energous’ technology allows Williot’s labels to work up to 13-14 meters, sometimes even 15 meters, thus covering the same area as a WiFi network. WattUp PowerBridge technology (see Figure 1) has already been deployed in two retail stores in Australia, where many transmitters cover the entire store area.
The other two key applications Energous is working on are electronic shelf labels (ESLs) and sensors, according to Johnston. ESLs are considered relevant because of their high-density deployment. Energous recently announced a collaboration with Sensirion, a sensor solution developer and manufacturer, to develop wirelessly powered CO2 sensors. The next-generation, maintenance-free CO2 sensors will be powered wirelessly over the air and will be used for indoor air quality (IAQ) improvements in industrial and commercial applications.
Recently, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Recommendation ITU-R SM2151-0 included an approval for the 900 MHz frequency band, basically recognizing 900 MHz (the same used by WattUp PowerBridge technology) as a wireless power transfer frequency to wirelessly charge devices.
“The last thing we have worked on is the approval of the AirFuel RF Wireless Power standard, which was just announced. We will be able to provide everything: we will have standard, technology, certification, and deployments showing our technology maturity,” Johnston said.
The challenge of battery-free IoT devices
Today, most IoT devices rely on batteries that are sometimes recharged through renewable means, like solar power.
“What we are seeing today is that some applications might not need to use batteries,” Johnston said. “Instead, they could use a special type of capacitor combined with our technology for wireless charging.”
Following this idea, Energous recently announced a partnership with CAP-XX Limited, a leading manufacturer of ultra-thin prismatic, cylindrical and lithium-ion supercapacitors, to develop battery-free and maintenance-free wirelessly powered IoT devices for a range of IoT applications. The aim of this partnership is to eliminate battery replacements and reduce cost of maintenance, thus enabling IoT devices at scale, according to Energous.
The CAP-XX narrowest supercapacitor has a thickness of 0.4 mm, or roughly half that of a credit card. In addition to decreasing the weight, price, size, component cost and quantity, and environmental effects of batteries, CAP-XX supercapacitors offer battery-independent power storage, secure power backup for mission-critical applications, and peak power support for pulsed loads. The ultra-thin prismatic supercapacitors from CAP-XX are perfect for electronics applications with limited space, where the size and thickness of small energy storage devices are crucial.
In partnership with e-peas, a leading company in energy harvesting management chips, Energous has also developed a Wireless Energy Harvesting Evaluation Kit. This kit is specifically designed to demonstrate the capabilities of WattUp technology for IoT sensor applications, ESLs, asset trackers, sensors, BLE beacons and other small devices.
The kit combines Energous’ RF solution with e-peas’ power management IC technology to support at-a-distance wireless power applications for smart buildings, industrial IoT sensors, retail electronic displays and more. Other kits, as that shown in Figure 2, are also available.
“I see that people buying our kits are first trying to understand how the technology works,” Johnston said. “Then, they do measurements, deploying devices in a room and seeing how far you can go, what type of power levels they can get, and whether the power level is good enough for their IoT application.”
The future of wirelessly charged sports devices
A first-of-a-kind wirelessly charged cradle for footballs has been made possible thanks to Energous’ WattUp solution, which can charge multiple devices simultaneously at a distance. This eliminates the need to charge the footballs on the sidelines and allows teams to practice and compete without being interrupted by their workflows or schedules.
During its two-year development at Catapult, a select number of football teams tested the football, including Division 1 teams from Boston College and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Catapult solutions are trusted by several teams across the world, including all 32 NFL teams and 95% of Power 5 programs in the U.S.