How one company is powering IoT devices – wirelessly
By 2023, there will be 20 billion connected IoT devices, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report.
But what will power these billions of IoT devices?
The old ways aren’t a complete answer. Many of these IoT devices will be – by design – placed in hard to reach, often dangerous locations. Think dams or under bridges or in rotating machinery. It would be impossible to power them through wires. And batteries can add prohibitive cost, size, weight and onerous maintenance issues no matter how efficient they are.
A big part of solving this puzzle is wireless charging, or harvested energy. This is a rapidly expanding field driven by a host of technologies, from harvesting kinetic and thermal energy to utilizing energy sources such as light, chemical processes and radio waves. Some eye-catching examples include laser-based power transfer or fabrics that capture energy from your body movement, though many think that radio frequency is the most promising of them all. It’s a market projected to reach USD 4.2 billion by 2019.
But what if we took it a step farther? What if the sensors in, for example, a factory were not just powered by radio waves but also could transmit data back to the system?
Using microwaves to power IoT devices
This is what GreenWake Technologies, a French Ericsson startup partner, is working on. Earlier this year, the company won an Ericsson Garage startup challenge on IoT in a 5G context at Vivatech in Paris.
GreenWake Technologies uses microwaves to power IoT devices as well as a data transmitter. It works like this: an antenna sends a wave towards an IoT device, which is plugged into a tag that receives the wave’s electromagnetic energy and efficiently converts it to direct current (DC). The converted energy (by means of a rectifier) is stored in a small capacitor, which can be recharged again and again. Once the capacitor is fully charged, the device uses this energy to take data from the sensors and send it through the embedded radio circuitry to a central unit. The central unit decides to process the signal or to send it further into the network to a remote processing unit.
Images supplied by GreenWake Technologies
GreenWake Technologies’ microwave technology stands out from, say, magnetic induction tech, due to its range. The maximum working distance for power transmission depends on the power level emitted, the antennas being used and the electrical consumption of the IoT device. The working distance could go up to 100 meters. The technology is EU compliant and uses off-the-shelf components, with its strengths being its time-to-market factor and also a high energy conversion efficiency of 50 percent. For maximum conversion efficiency the RF frequency selected is 2.45GHz.
Images supplied by GreenWake Technologies
All this gives GreenWake Technologies the capability of powering IoT devices that are inaccessible by cable or any other power source, which makes the solution perfect for monitoring hazardous chemical environments and rotating machinery, or devices buried in the ground or placed on dams, bridges, motorways, etc. All its devices come with a built-in web server – running HTML5 and with an Ethernet interface – for plug and play integration and easy data retrieval without the need for specific drivers. The company’s standardized systems are also able to connect to many standard industrial micro-sensors.
Connecting entrepreneurs with public research
The company was founded in early 2016 by Spas Balinov, an entrepreneur with a background in mechanical engineering. He had been working on another startup aimed at providing low bandwidth connectivity using nano-satellites. When he decided to move on to his next project, he was selected into the Pulsalys startup incubator, headquartered in Villeurbanne, near Lyon, France. The incubator links entrepreneurs with public research labs. In early 2016, Balinov asked for an energy/IoT project and was introduced to a research team led by Christian Vollaire at the Ampère Laboratory of the École Centrale Lyon, which had developed what became GreenWake Technologies’ proprietary technology.
GreenWake Technologies is focusing exclusively on the business-to-business market, and particularly industrial customers, for which it can substantially lower operational costs, according to Spas Balinov. He envisions a range of primary applications, including structural monitoring, rotating machinery, industrial sites and contaminated environments.
“We can see how things like bridges and dams move and behave over time,” he says. “They have parameters that change over months and years. You need IoT devices in hard to reach or dangerous places. The idea with our system is not to send someone to the top of a bridge, where they might fall. We also have customers in mining.”
Powering IoT devices by working together
So how will Ericsson and GreenWake Technologies work together? Right now, GreenWake Technologies has more of a local solution rather than a global one, and with Ericsson solutions, GreenWake Technologies could send data over the mobile network and into the cloud, giving companies the ability to operate the system remotely. It’s about reaching scale for both companies but it’s also creating opportunity to build IoT without the restrictions of wires and batteries.