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Wireless power unleashes the full potential of smart furniture

IoT offers a myriad of opportunities for value creation and capture. By 2020, there will be 31 billion connected IoT devices, according to Deloitte. These numbers often get thrown around, and while staggering, they aren’t surprising. They represent a fraction of what will likely exist in the future.

As the smart revolution matures beyond its conceptual stage, the furniture industry is beginning to emerge within the IoT market. The Apple Watch, Alexa and FitBit might be popular examples most people default to when thinking of IoT devices, but everyday items such as furniture are quickly joining them. The global smart furniture market is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 21.8% and reach $794.8 million by 2026, according to PRNewswire.

Designers are looking at connectivity as another differentiator beyond style, quality or price. The physical components combine with the digital capabilities to create smart furniture. Passive materials that have been used for years in the creation of furniture, such as wood, fabric and metal, merge with electricity to create new forms of utility and comfort. For example, a sofa that rearranges via application-controlled gestures, a wardrobe that keeps your clothes clean and wrinkle-free and a mirror with a built-in electronic display are quickly coming to market.

However, one key roadblock remains; how to power all these new devices.

Many IoT furniture manufacturers face a choice between batteries and power cords, each with their own set of issues. Batteries have a limited lifespan and need to be replaced. Power cords have an unlimited supply of energy, but they’re attached to outlets and restrict the mobility of the furniture and the freedom of the user.

Advantages of long-range wireless power

Long-range wireless power provides the ability to deliver power from a distance without wires, batteries and charging pads, which might be the solution to current manufacturers’ problems. Let’s consider this in more detail.

Powering phones and other mobile devices

Mobile phones have become such important devices in our lives that people use them continually throughout their day. As a result, many people require the ability to power or recharge them from anywhere. Charging from a wall outlet is sometimes possible and impractical. For example, one might be sitting in a hospital waiting room or the lobby of an office building. A receptionist might be working at a rolling cart, or a college student might be studying with a lap desk. If there was a charger that is part of that chair, rolling cart or lap desk, one could charge the phone with ease.

Powering the furniture itself

Height-adjustable desks are becoming popular and there is ample talk about the benefits they provide. Electronic height-adjustable desks that can adjust the height at the push of a button are even more popular because they don’t require any physical effort and can remember preset height settings. When such a desk is mobile or not located near an outlet, an alternative source of power is required.

Additional examples of powered furniture might be a gaming chair with built-in audio and vibrations, or a powered recliner. In all these cases, the user might not want to be mandated to place the furniture near a power outlet in order to run a cable to it.

Powering sensors that attach to the furniture

Sensors that attach to furniture can save energy and efficiency. For example, when a shared office building provides cubicles for temporary workers, the ability to sense whether a chair or a desk is being used can turn off lights, control the local temperature or inform the manager that the cubicle might be available.

How can we get this power?

Furniture can benefit from electrical power, but what if an outlet is not available? Powering all of this technology using alkaline batteries will be untenable because these batteries will need to be replaced or recharged often.

This is where long-range wireless power comes in handy. By delivering power from a distance and without wires, long-range wireless power provides a new option for furniture designers and users that allows them to get the power they need, without cumbersome cables or expensive batteries.

Wireless power uses an intermediate physical phenomenon, such as radiofrequency or ultrasound, to send power from a transmitter — that is connected to an outlet — to a receiver that is part of the furniture being powered. A new and promising approach is to use infrared radiation (IR) light, which is the same kind of invisible natural light that is abundant outdoors and similar to the one in your TV remote control. Long-range wireless power systems that use IR light can deliver meaningful power, safely and efficiently at room-sized distances to small receivers that are easy to embed.

Final thoughts

As more smarter devices reach homes and offices, furniture must also adapt to the new requirements, and more flexible power solutions must follow to support them. Long-range wireless power is something to consider as a solution to the current power problems. Designers armed with more than batteries and power cords have more room to innovate, simplify and add value.

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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