Suddenly, Wireless Power Transmission Is Everywhere

Wireless power transfer exists right now, but it’s not as cool as Tesla’s Wardenclyffe tower and it’s not as stupid as an OSHA-unapproved ultrasonic power transfer system. Wireless power transfer today is a Qi charger for your phone. It’s low power – just a few amps — and very short range. This makes sense; after all, we’re dealing with the inverse square law here, and wireless power transfer isn’t very efficient.

Now, suddenly, we can transfer nearly two kilowatts wirelessly to electronic baubles scattered all over a room. It’s a project from Disney Research, it’s coming out of Columbia University, it’s just been published in PLOS one, and inexplicably it’s also an Indiegogo campaign. Somehow or another, the stars have aligned and 2017 is the year of wirelessly powering your laptop.

disney-research-quasistatic-cavity-roomThe first instance of wireless power transfer that’s more than just charging a phone comes from Disney Research. This paper describes quasistatic cavity resonance (QSCR) to transfer up to 1900 Watts to a coil across a room. In an experimental demonstration, this QSCR can power small receivers scattered around a 50 square meter room with efficiencies ranging from 40% to 95%. In short, the abstract for this paper promises a safe, efficient wireless power transfer that completely removes the need for wall outlets.

In practice, the QSCR from Disney Research takes the form of a copper pole situated in the center of a room with the walls, ceiling, and floor clad in aluminum. This copper pole isn’t continuous from floor to ceiling – it’s made of two segments, connected by capacitors. When enough RF energy is dumped into this pole, power can be extracted from a coil of wire. The video below does a good job of walking you through the setup.

As with all wireless power transmission schemes, there is the question of safety. Using finite element analysis, the Disney team found this room was safe, even for people with pacemakers and other implanted electronics. The team successfully installed lamps, fans, and a remote-controlled car in this room, all powered wirelessly with three coils oriented orthogonally to each other. The discussion goes on to mention this setup can be used to charge mobile phones, although we’re not sure if charging a phone in a Faraday cage makes sense.

motherbox-charging-phone-squareIf the project from Disney research isn’t enough, here’s the MotherBox, a completely unrelated Indiegogo campaign that was launched this week. This isn’t just any crowdfunding campaign; this work comes straight out of Columbia University and has been certified by Arrow Electronics. This is, by all accounts, a legitimate thing.

The MotherBox crowdfunding campaign promises true wireless charging. They’re not going for a lot of power here – the campaign only promises enough to charge your phone – but it does it at a distance of up to twenty inches.

At the heart of the MotherBox is a set of three coils oriented perpendicular to each other. The argument, or sales pitch, says current wireless chargers only work because the magnetic fields are oriented to each other. The coil in the phone case is parallel to the coil in the charging mat, for instance. With three coils arranged perpendicular to each other, the MotherBox allows for ‘three-dimensional charging’.

Does the MotherBox work? Well, if you dump enough energy into a coil, something is going to happen. The data for the expected charging ranges versus power delivered is reasonably linear, although that doesn’t quite make sense in a three-dimensional universe.

Is it finally time to get rid of all those clumsy wall outlets? No, not quite yet. The system from Disney Research works, but you have to charge your phone in a Faraday cage. It would be a great environment to test autonomous quadcopters, though. For MotherBox, Ivy League engineers started a crowdfunding campaign instead of writing a paper or selling the idea to an established company. It may not be time to buy a phone case so you can charge your phone wirelessly at Starbucks, but at least people are working on the problem. This time around, some of the tech actually works.

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Power Over WiFi Might Not Be A Unicorn After All

There have been a few reports of power over WiFi (PoWiFi) on the intertubes lately. If this is a real thing it’s definitely going to blow all of the IoT fanboys skirts up (sorry to the rest of you *buzzword* fanboys, the IoT kids flash-mobbed the scene and they mean business).

All of the recent information we found points to an article by [Popular Science] titled “Best of What’s New 2015”. The brief write up includes a short summary lacking technical info, and fair play to [PopSci] as it’s a “Best Of” list for which they hadn’t advertised as an in-depth investigation.

However, we tend to live by the “If you’re gonna get wet, you might as well swim.” mentality, so we decided to get a little more information on the subject. After a bit of digging around we came across the actual article on [Cornell University]’s e-print archive where you can download the PDF that was published.

USB energy harvesting dongle.
USB energy harvesting dongle.

The paper goes into detailed explanation of the power harvesting theory including a schematic of the receiving end hardware. They had to create a constant transmission for the harvester to get over its minimum required voltage of operation. This was done with one of the wireless router’s unused channels to fill the voids of packet-less silence between normal WiFi communication.

As you can imagine PoWiFi is currently limited to powering/charging very low power devices that are used intermittently. The research team was able to charge a Jawbone headset at a rate of 2.3mA for 2.5 hours which resulted in the battery going from 0-41%. The punchline here is the distance, the device being charged was only 5-7cm from the PoWiFi router which is getting close to inductive charging range. The researchers stated in the paper that they were looking into integrating the harvesting circuitry and antenna into the headset while working towards a larger charging distance.

At the time of writing this article it seems that PoWiFi is best suited for devices such as: low powered sensors and motion activated cameras that have increased energy storage capacity, which the team mentioned as one of the continued research possibilities.

We’ve covered numerous wireless power projects before, some legit and some we still get a kick out of. Where do you think this one falls on that spectrum? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks to [ScottVR] for the tip.

Ultrasonic Power Transfer: uBeam’s Curious Engineering

The future is wireless power, or so say a thousand press releases in my spam folder, and with very few exceptions every single system of wireless power delivery has fallen flat on its face. Except for a few niche cases – RFID tags, Wacom tablets and the S Pen, and the Qi inductive power mats for cell phones – the future of wireless power hardly looks bright, and in some cases seems downright dangerous. No one seems to grasp that wireless power transfer is much more inefficient than using a wire, and the inverse square law only makes everything worse.

Now there’s a new wireless power technology that’s a strange mix of running in stealth mode and sending press releases to every tech outlet on the planet. It’s called uBeam. This company says it will deliver wireless power to the world, but it’s not doing it with giant Tesla-inspired towers of power, radios beamed directly at devices, induction, magnetic resonance, or even light. uBeam transmits power via sound, specifically high intensity ultrasound. uBeam has never demonstrated a prototype, has never released any technical specs, and even some high-profile investors that include [Mark Cuban] have not seen the uBeam working. Despite running in a ‘stealth mode’, it has garnered a lot of press, and has been featured on TechCrunch dozens of times. This may just be a consequence of CrunchFunds’s investment in uBeam, but there’s still more Google News results for a technology that hasn’t even been demonstrated than a reasonable person would expect.

In what is perhaps the greatest breakdown ever posted on the EEVForums, [georgesmith] goes over what uBeam is, how the technology doesn’t make sense, and how far you can take a business before engineers start to say, ‘put up or shut up.’ [georgesmith]’s research goes over just some of what makes uBeam impractical, but digging even further reveals how insane uBeam actually is.

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Wireless Power Transfer Using Capacitive Plates

It seems like wireless power transfer is all the rage these days. There’s wireless charging mats, special battery packs, heck, even some phones have it built in! And they all use inductive coils to transfer the power — but what if there was another way? Coils of copper wire aren’t always that easy to fit inside of a product…

As an experiment, [Josh Levine] decided to try making a proof of concept for capacitive power transfer.

He first demonstrates inductive power transfer using two coils of copper wire to power up an LED. The charging coil is supplied with 15V peak-to-peak at 1MHz which is a fairly typical value for inductive charging. He then shows us two glass plates with some tinfoil taped to it. Two LEDs bridge the gap alternating polarity — since the power is oscillating, so we need a path for electrons to flow in both directions. There is no connection through the glass, but when it is set on the charging plate, the LEDs light up. The charging plate is supplied with 30V peak-to-peak at 5MHz.

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