Electronic waste is expected to exceed 50 million tonnes by 2020. That number simply isn't sustainable.
A few companies are aiming to get rid of one of the main culprits in e-waste: the electronic cable. Wi-Charge, Energous, and Ossia, are developing methods for powering devices wirelessly using safe and efficient infrared technology.
Aside from having the potential to end a great deal of waste, the companies also aim to meet a growing demand for power that will only increase with the advent of 5G.
Changing smart homes, changing power
One big issue with smart homes and the Internet of Things (IoT) is the fact that having everything connected needs a huge amount of power transferred via a huge amount of cables.
Wi-Charge says it has a solution to the problem. Its technology allows users to power small devices, such as smartphones, smart fire alarms, and smart locks, from several feet away without any wires.
The technology works by sending out a thin beam of infrared light. A receiver on the enabled device then converts the beam into electricity.
This is a safe solution Yuval Boger, CMO of Wi-Charge told Interesting Engineering via email:
“Unlike 5G that uses RF energy, Wi-Charge uses IR light. IR light is prevalent in nature - it is about 50% of the sun's energy. It also already exists in homes, such as in remote controls or in IR saunas.
"Wi-Charge is also unique in having obtained consumer safety certifications for its product from organizations such as UL and from U.S. and international regulators.”
Energous, meanwhile, has built a device resembling a smart home assistant that supports at home and over-the-air wireless charging.
Their technology can charge devices from up to 15 feet away, including smartphones, cameras, speakers, hearing aids and even drones.
What makes this type of device incredibly convenient is the fact that it can charge several devices at the same time. Energous has obtained FCC certification and is considered safe for consumer use.
Wireless enabled bathrooms
One place where a huge amount of cables can be very problematic, and even dangerous, is the bathroom.
Wi-Charge has tested its wireless power technology for small businesses, with a focus on their restrooms.
As can be seen above, devices throughout the bathroom are wirelessly charged, including touchless faucets, soap dispensers, and flush valves in both the toilets and the urinals.
Not only can this technology rid restrooms of cables, it can also remove the need for bulky batteries in these devices.
5G and wireless power
As Yuval Boger tells us, the need for wireless power will only increase with the advent of 5G technologies.
5G, he says, will "drive up the energy requirements of IoT devices, and thus generate a significant need for power that batteries cannot sufficiently provide - hence an opportunity for long-range wireless power.”
And how about other applications for wireless power? With robotics, AI, and quantum computing all expected to flourish in the coming years, surely the need for convenient power will be practically endless?
"In the area of robotics, long-range wireless power can [already] be used to deliver energy to certain robots. It can also be used to power sensors on the robots," Boger tells us.
"Since robots involve movement, powering these sensors with wires is sometimes cumbersome, and thus there is value to wire-free energy delivery."
The main focus for the time being, however, Boger tells us, is powering the plethora of smart IoT devices that are starting to fill public buildings.
Powering cars and the future
While Wi-Charge is focusing on restrooms and public spaces, another company, Ossia, is aiming to carve out their own niche in wireless charging for the automotive industry — with cars also expected to be revolutionized by 5G.
The company has developed a wireless transmitter that is inserted right into the hood or dashboard of a car and can deliver wireless power simultaneously to personal devices and automotive sensors.
These sensors, that give a multitude of readings about the car to its driver, are becoming ever more accurate at the same time as being more reliant on connectivity and power.
Wireless power is an increasingly competitive space and the future of power might well be cable-free.