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The secret to powering IoT devices

Nowadays, it’s hard to not find connected devices everywhere you look. Every second, another 127 “things” are connected to the Internet according to Stringify CTO Dave Evans, and Gartner predicts that there will be 25 billion IoT devices by 2021.

Connected devices are only as valuable as the data they gather, the knowledge they impart and the actions they inform from data analysis. This is true not only for bigger, high-profile applications such as smart homes and cities, but also for the ever-increasing number of smaller-scale IoT applications. These smaller applications — like smart labels, smart packaging, smart pills, smart tags, smart cards, smart medical devices and diverse wearables — impact lives and business activities every single day.

As more things are transformed into connected devices, the type of power source they use plays

a surprisingly large role in how efficiently they sense and transmit data, and how usable — and therefore, how frequently used — they are. Device makers who rely on conventional, off-the-shelf batteries that are thick and rigid often have limited success due to design restrictions that affect usability.

Energy storage advancements can make devices truly useable

Energy storage solutions have advanced more than many manufacturers realize. New battery innovations free manufacturers to create truly user-friendly IoT devices that enable efficient data sensing and transmission. Next-generation, high-performance battery solutions that are lightweight, thin, bendable and flexible can be seamlessly integrated into connected devices. This enables device hardware to be designed much more aesthetically, providing a better user experience with greater comfortability and ultimately leading to stronger market adoption.

For instance, if a patch for monitoring biometrics or for therapeutic purposes were to have a thick and rigid battery cell embedded, it would be uncomfortable for users to wear. This discomfort would limit their usage time, resulting in low data collection and thereby unhelpful analysis. But if the patch had a thin and flexible battery seamlessly integrated instead, it wouldn’t impede their daily movements. In fact, users wouldn’t be so conscious about wearing it at all. This would naturally increase usage. With each consumer using the patch more often, more data is gathered and more valuable, informative feedback can be provided.

Key battery advancements

So just how flexible is a flexible battery? Very. We did bending tests on a battery that has a 20mm radius. After being bent 10,000 times, the battery still had about the same charge and discharge performance as a non-bent battery. This degree of flexibility is a must for devices that need to be curved or bendable and ultimately helps consumers feel comfortable using them.

Other significant flexible battery advancements have to do with weight, safety, customization and thinness. Batteries can be configured in thicknesses as little as 0.5mm. This thinness is very useful for sensors, smart cards, wristbands and other applications where weight and thickness are crucial success factors. These features are also key to enabling batteries to fit into small spaces in device hardware.

Next-generation batteries must also be safer. Even though manufacturers put tremendous effort into making sure batteries are durable and international safety tests are required, this doesn’t guarantee that batteries won’t overheat, explode or leak. Flexible rechargeable batteries made with gel polymer electrolyte technology deliver greater safety than batteries with liquid electrolyte; the gel electrolyte has higher resistance to heat and won’t leak if punctured.

Instead of off-the-shelf, rigid batteries, manufacturers now have the option of customizing flexible batteries to better utilize the space and hardware design of their devices. Rather than having to revisit their design at the end of the creation process because those off-the-shelf batteries do not fit the optimized product design, engineers and designers can now take advantage of battery manufacturers’ customization services to create a flexible battery solution that best meets their size, capacity, thinness and shape requirements, and delivers better user experience.

With so many things going “smart,” competition among connected device manufacturers is heating up as never before. The kind of battery a device maker uses to power smart devices or their components, or to transmit data, plays a huge role in how innovative and useful their devices can be, and how compelling users find them.

Next-generation flexible and thin batteries are key to delivering the kind of highly usable, aesthetically pleasing and reliably connected devices that give forward-thinking IoT device manufacturers a competitive edge.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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