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Wireless power: Enabling the next-generation of smart home devices

As if overnight, the majority of the devices in our home have become smart. We listen to music through smart speakers. We watch and browse content on smart TVs. Our smart thermostats adjust the temperature based on the time of day and our location. Our door locks recognize multiple faces and fingerprints. Our smart scale logs our weight and body composition. With these smart devices, we have unparalleled convenience, connectivity, control and access to data insights like never before.

As smart product features become a standard for consumers, additional household items and appliances will become smart. A smart microwave will understand voice commands. A smart shower will adjust the temperature for you. A smart table will charge your devices while you eat, and smart lighting will reflect your mood.

What makes a device smart — and at what cost

There are a few key features that make a device smart:

  • Internet connectivity that is pretty much always on
  • Learning capabilities
  • Control via voice or a mobile application
  • Integration with a smart assistant that “knows” the user

These devices can make a big improvement in user experience, and thus are quickly adopted. However, they share a common drawback — they consume much more power than their older, dumber predecessors. Unfortunately, always-on connectivity and local intelligence require more power than a passive device.

There are two ways devices manufacturers combat this power consumption problem: require the device to be plugged in to operate or work extensively on optimizing power consumption.

Neither one is a good option. If a smart device was a pet, the power cord is its leash. The cord limits the device to locations that are close to power outlets. It makes installation more difficult. And, has anyone ever met a beautiful power cord? Face it, power cords are usually ugly, which is why users spend time and money hiding them.

Batteries, on the other hand, aim to solve the problem of device mobility, but require constant recharging or replacements. Battery anxiety is very common for users throughout the day and no one wants to be locked out because their smart lock is out of battery. Features of battery-operated devices are also usually compromised in some way. For example, a battery-operated security camera may look the same as its wired counterpart, but it does a lot less — lower resolution, smaller capture, longer response time. Users are forced to compromise on either the features they use or the frequency of battery replacements.

Power: The barrier to the next wave of smart home devices

Even as lithium-ion batteries become more powerful and efficient, relying on their evolution will only lead to incremental connected device innovation improvements. In the end, every device with a battery, no matter how advanced, will still only have a finite amount of power. Single-use batteries are also not good for the environment, creating an extra incentive to find a better way.

What if we could eliminate the power cord and need for batteries for smart devices? What if you could put your smart speaker on a high shelf or hang it on the wall and never have to take it down to charge it? Or install a network of security cameras in the perfect locations to view your home without having to hide the wires or constantly replace batteries?

The smart device industry spent much time eliminating the data cord and providing wireless connectivity via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. But the data cable is just one of two cables that need to be eliminated. It’s now time to eliminate the power cable by introducing wireless power.

The mass availability of wireless power would greatly impact the device design process too. Manufacturers would be able to design products that didn’t sacrifice features for longer battery power and mobility. Today, smart locks can’t record HD video at length because it drains the battery. Larger batteries are more expensive, and they also require changing the dimensions of the standard lock or making the casing unsightly — a burdened install or eyesore for consumers and home builders. But with wireless power, smart lock manufacturers would be able to pack more features and function into the same form factor — no sacrifice required. Wireless cameras can provide the same useful features as wired ones. Smart speakers can be installed without burying the cable. Life without cables sounds very appealing.

The not-so-distant future

Smart device manufacturers desire an energy delivery method that approximates wired power but allows battery-like freedom of movement and placement. Wireless power eliminates the need for battery changes, allows new capabilities in power-constrained devices and will usher in the next-generation of mobile smart devices. It’s only a matter of time before we see wireless power become a reality in the smart home, smart office and even the smart city.

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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