Nikola Tesla’s dream comes true: The IoT in a world where energy is transmitted wirelessly
04 May 2017 IoT General
In the late 19th century, none other than Nikola Tesla, to whom we are indebted for modern systems that use electrical energy via alternating current, dreamt about a wireless, free energy source. Even though two centuries had to elapse before this need became palpable, Tesla’s vision has been shared by thousands of engineers throughout human history. Now, we are finally on the verge of his dream coming true, a reality which could herald a revolution for another major technological advance of our time: the Internet of Things.
Although it has been around for a long time, in practice, the concept of wireless energy is new. The first functional (and commercial) prototypes of wireless chargers are barely a decade old. In all cases, the technology works following the same premise: induced current. An electrical current is generated in a conductive material under a magnetic field. In an object subjected to a variable magnetic field, this material can allow the electrical current to pass through (induced). This body may be a charger adapted to generate the current needed to charge a device under the influence of the magnetic field. In this context, initiatives like the one proposed by the Wireless Power Consortium, the WiPow Consortium and some of the projects spearheaded by Apple in recent years, offer a variety of systems to charge the batteries of devices or transmit energy without the need for direct contact.
Of all the projects underway, a recent study performed by the Disney Research Division provides a glimpse of one of the most promising futures for wireless energy. The Quasistatic Cavity Resonance for Ubiquitous Wireless Power Transfer system, or QSCR, designed by Matthew Chabalko, Mohsen Shahmohammadi and Alanson Sample from Disney Research in Pittsburgh, not only offers energy without the need for contact; it also resolves the geometric and logistical problems found in other similar systems. This technology allows rooms to be created where there is a dynamic magnetic field capable of generating electrical current in devices. This would mean a room where devices with a wireless “generator”, known as a receiver, can operate. Almost any device can work with the right installation, which is nothing other than a small adaptor that is sensitive to the changing magnetic field around it.
Specifically, QSCR tecnology generates a uniform electromagnetic field inside the room via the resonance of the electromagnetic waves. The secret of the technologies lies in both the way these waves are generated and in the metallic structure surrounding the room, at the centre of which is a vertical pole. For the time being, QSCR technology has been tested in rooms designed especially for the experiments: rectangular, metallic spaces. However, its creators are convinced of the possibility of using this technology in rooms with different shapes with the use of special paints. Furthermore, because of the frequency ranges in which this QSCR works, not only is it totally safe for any life form, but it also limits interference and the loss of efficiency. In short, QSCR technology could make possible what Tesla’s incredible mind only dreamt of. But what the engineer was unable to imagine were the vast possibilities that a technology like this brings to the modern world.
The perfect companion for the Internet of Things
There are several technological hurdles that must be overcome in the development of the IoT. Even though connectivity and interoperability are always in focus, the fact is that the power supply and batteries are factors that limit its implementation. In the quest for solutions, many initiatives are working on longer-lasting and smaller batteries. Yet this once again could be a limitation. The application of a technology like QSCR, if it meets expectations, could replace and resolve many of the attempts made to date. For example, wireless energy technology could help maintain security devices, sensors and probes installed anywhere that cables prove to be cumbersome. It could also play in essential role in medical settings, since it could be the solution to all kinds of therapeutic devices like pacemakers, diabetic probes and other devices which are also connected to the physician. In this way, the patient’s quality of life could increase, plus they could be monitored instantaneously.
Another setting where QSCR technology will be vitally important is industry. There is a vast number of wireless energy applications in the world of the new Industry 4.0, such as the installation of sensors. These sensors are considered wireless since they are capable of communicating in the IoT context without wires. However, they are physically connected to a cable feed. The installation and reconfiguration of the wiring are more expensive even than the sensors themselves. Wireless energy would solve this problem, cutting installation and maintenance costs while also offering a secondary power system that would prevent technical failures.
And, of course, QSCR technology could open the future to users, a future in which they don’t have to worry about charging their devices, or even keep them plugged into the electrical grid. With the proper implementation, all devices like computers, mobile telephones and even household appliances would work constantly or be recharging without requiring any attention. This would entail a radical change in the way we have to think about and use our devices. We could use them without hardly worrying about their batteries, giving us greater convenience, lowering installation and wiring costs, and preventing several of the typical problems associated with consumers: broken or lost adaptors and cables, failures in charging devices, durability of the batteries because of improper use, excessive waste from discarded batteries… In short, a wireless energy technology, specifically the promising QSCR from Disney Research, would be the perfect complement, or more accurately the indispensable complement, for a world in which everything is increasingly connected, but without wires.