What if we could power robots, sensors, tools, and all electronic devices wirelessly? Imagine if designers of devices in health care, manufacturing, logistics, and construction were not limited by wires or batteries. Wireless power is going to unleash a wave of new innovation just like wireless communication unlocked smart phones and WiFi liberated data and information.
What is wireless power?
Wireless power distributes electricity without wires. This is accomplished using electromagnetic fields, which is how the sun transfers energy to the earth. The force you feel when you hold two magnets with opposite charges near each other is an example of an electromagnetic field.
To understand how wireless power works, it’s helpful to understand how energy is created. Everything on earth is made up of small particles that have positive or negative charges. Opposite charges are attracted to each other, which creates motion. As charged particles move, they create an electromagnetic field.
We use electromagnetic energy for different purposes, and the frequency of the wave determines the level of energy intensity. Low-frequency radio waves allow us to listen to music in our cars, open garage doors, and unlock hotel rooms. High-frequency waves allow us to X-ray our bones to determine if they are broken. In between, in the middle of the spectrum, visible light from the sun allows us to see what’s around us.
There are three main ways to distribute wireless power.
1. Induction. My wireless electric toothbrush charges using induction. If you pass electric current through a coil of copper wire, the coil will create a magnetic field. Place a second copper coil in the magnetic field, and the power will transfer from one coil to the other. This approach can be used to charge a phone or an electric car, but it is limited because the copper coils need to be very close together.
2. Lasers. A focused beam of nonvisible light aimed at a target equipped with a solar cell can transform a laser’s energy into electricity. This approach requires a direct line of sight to the target, and the high concentration of energy in the laser beam creates safety concerns.
3. Radio waves. Antennas transmit electromagnetic waves through the air until they are received by another set of antennas, which convert the wave’s energy into usable power.
Reach Lab’s advantage
Reach Labs’ technology focuses on using radio waves to deliver long-range power in industrial applications. Most companies working on wireless power concentrate on consumer applications (e.g., charging cell phones, tablets, electronics, etc.) because their underlying technology is constrained to short-range applications.
Reach Labs’ hardware and software platform maximizes long-range power transmission by optimizing the path of the radio waves. The software ensures optimal transmission configuration of the waves and routes them to bounce off each other and reflect from objects in a pattern to direct the energy in the most efficient path to the target receivers. This approach allows the radio waves to be directed via multiple pathways instead of a single, focused, high-energy beam.
Long-range power distribution. Liberates electronic devices from needing wired power connections or batteries. One transmitter can distribute power up to 100 feet.
Improved performance. Sensors and connected devices are no longer constrained by battery life and can process, analyze, and store more data, enabling quicker response times and instant decision-making. More sensors mean more data for implementing machine learning insights and automation.
Safe. Operates below Federal Communications Commission (FCC) exposure limits. As sensors detect a person, the power is either scaled down to prevent any exposure higher than FCC limits or shut down.
Modular and scalable. Powers anything from a microwatt sensor to a 400W industrial robot—depending on the size of the transmitter, size of receiver, and distance between them. Software allows antennas to be deployed in different configurations to accommodate a wide range of power specifications.
Flexible. Transmitters power multiple devices, do not require line of sight, and can adapt to any environment including inconvenient, hazardous, or inaccessible locations.
Monitoring and control. Dashboard accessible via web browser, which provides real-time monitoring of all powered devices on the network.
How it works
1. One or more antennas are connected to a power source.
2. Antennas convert electrical current into electromagnetic radio waves.
3. A separate communication channel allows transmitting antennas to communicate with receivers.
4. Software optimizes the path of the radio waves to reach all receivers.
5. Radar, sensors, and software detect human presence, allowing radio waves to be instantly scaled down under FCC limits.
6. Dashboard allows authorized users to remotely manage devices on the power network using advanced monitoring, controlling, and reporting capabilities.
An overwhelming number of industrial, asset management, and supply chain applications can potentially be powered through this wireless technology. Consider cordless tools and scanners, mobile warehouse robots that never need charging, digital price tags in big box retail stores, and fleets of security drones that never need to land.
Wireless sensor networks in manufacturing, logistics, and retail are Reach Lab’s first target applications. Sensors typically require short-lived batteries that are inconvenient to replace. Millions of dollars can be lost shutting down industrial machines in a power plant or manufacturing process. Unrestricted placement of sensors can increase performance due to better monitoring and data processing.
Power-hungry video and audio sensors, along with other industrial sensors tracking temperature, motion, vibration, tilt, force, voltage, and water level, can improve quality, minimize waste, and boost overall efficiency of a manufacturing process.