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Is The Future of Technology Completely Wireless?

Many of our devices have become mobile in recent years thanks to compact batteries. Thanks to mobile internet, we can also use them everywhere. But no matter how compact the battery has become, it is still a big part of your phone. And it needs to be charged regularly at the power outlet.

But with the advent of wireless charging, this problem will soon be a thing of the past.
Wireless charging may seem like a new gadget for tech freaks , but it is an important part of 'electrifying' of society. In a world full of 'intelligent' devices - from sensors and smartphones to robots and cars with built-in intelligence - the challenge of keeping everything charged quickly becomes a day's work. If you want to charge less often, you need a larger battery and there is not always room for that.

Moreover, a larger battery increases the weight and therefore the power consumption - a major challenge for electric car manufacturers - which also requires all kinds of valuable raw materials.

Real freedom

The first steps for the true freedom of wireless charging have been taken. The latest generation of smartphones from Nokia, Apple, Samsung and Huawei, among others, have been supporting the so-called 'Qi standard' for a number of years.
 for wireless charging. In practice, this means that you place a smartphone on a device in the form of a plate through which it is charged. Such a plate can be integrated into a piece of furniture or a lamp, like IKEA does. But in all these cases the smartphone must still make contact with the plate or be very close.

Of course, it only becomes really fun if devices can be charged remotely while they are in your pocket or while you are walking through the room with them. The tech industry is now working hard on this. The first equipment will come onto the market in the course of 2019.

The techniques for transmitting energy over a few meters have been known for some time: infrared radiation, radio signals, magnetic fields or ultrasonic sound. Each technique has its own advantages and disadvantages . The biggest challenge is to make the techniques truly 'mobile', and therefore compact and efficient enough. All techniques work with a sender and receiver. The transmitter (for example the aforementioned plate) is, just like a WiFi modem, connected to the socket.

 This converts electricity into an energy-rich signal and transmits it. The receivers (for example your telephone) then convert the received signal into power to power the device or to charge an internal battery. Devices are charged continuously but, compared to a cord, when they are within range of the transmitter.

The receivers must be built into all devices and that costs money and space. Manufacturers of mobile devices must therefore choose which technology and which standard they will support. That battle has not yet been decided, which means that the major breakthrough may not be forthcoming, unless a few large players embrace a certain technology - as Apple endorsed the Qi standard last year.

How can you charge wirelessly?

Infrared , known from the remote controls and computer mouse, only works if there are no obstacles between the transmitter and receiver: they must always be in each other's field of vision. That is why the infrared emitters are hanging on the ceiling. Every device to be charged has a small 'eye' similar to a small solar cell, with which it can absorb radiation. With infrared, the energy can be very well targeted, so that charging can take place relatively quickly. Infrared is developed by, among others,  Wi-charge.

Radio signals , which we know from WiFi and Bluetooth, can partly pass through objects. The transmitters and receivers are smaller and easy to integrate into devices. The components resemble the receivers for 4G and Wifi signals that are already built into many devices. Radio signals, however, fan out easily. This is useful for good coverage of mobile internet, but not if you want to charge a device in a targeted manner and therefore want to transfer as much energy as possible bundled. Charging can then take a long time. Radio frequency charging is for example developed by the company Energous .

Magnetic fields and ultrasonic signals pass through obstacles reasonably well, but are more likely to malfunction other equipment. Charging with magnetic fields is being developed by Pi-charge , among others  . UBeam does this with ultrasound.

In addition to smartphones and tablets, electric cars, drones and robots are ready to conquer the market. These use a lot more energy and here too charging is a big issue: there is room for a large battery but it should not become too big and heavy. That is why wireless charging is also being looked into at this angle.

One possibility is to charge electric cars via the road surface. That works in a similar way to the way smartphones are charged, but then everything is a lot bigger. Energy cables and magnetic coils are laid in the road surface to generate electric fields that are captured by cars and converted into energy. The energy transfer proceeds best when the car is not speeding. But even then about 60 percent of the energy put into the cables is lost. That is why some companies are working on a solution where the car does make contact with the road, via a strip that drags over the ground - a bit like a tram draws its power from cables - but then into the ground

 . As a result, much less energy is lost than with wireless charging.

Wireless sensors

Cars, robots and drones use a lot of energy compared to smartphones, but there is often room for a battery. With very small equipment, such as sensors, it is more difficult to integrate batteries. In addition, batteries require maintenance and may break after a few years or in extreme

That is why we are working on techniques that allow sensors to constantly obtain the necessary energy from the environment - instead of needing a battery. This is also called energy harvesting ('harvesting' energy) or ' energy scavenging ' ('collecting remains'). The Delft company Nowi is one of the first to come on the market with this equipment.

For example, a sensor can extract energy from WiFi signals

An air quality sensor on the facade of an office building can, for example, extract energy from mobile networks in the air: such as WiFi signals or 4G. These are relatively energy-rich but are also used by others to transfer data. Work is also being done on techniques for extracting energy from heat, sunlight, chemical reactions and vibrations. The same techniques can later be used for electric cars and smartphones.

By making sensors self-sufficient, they can easily be installed anywhere without the need for maintenance or without having to install a power cord or anything else. This can give a huge boost to the use of sensor networks that enable the air quality of cities, the early detection of earthquakes or dyke breaches. Self-driving vehicles also need sensor networks to obtain sufficient information about the environment in which they are driving.

Wireless charging will not only 'relieve' us and provide more comfort, but will also ensure that the world of intelligent, internet-connected devices, or the Internet of Things, can break through. At the same time, new possibilities arise for distributing energy directly as an alternative to energy storage and energy transport.

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