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Bringing a forever battery to life in IoT

When Wi-Fi was first released, it was difficult to imagine that it would become such an important wireless communication tool currently connecting billions of devices and counting. Wireless technology has freed electronic devices from Ethernet cables, but finding a solution to eliminate power cords and the need for battery power still remains.

A growing number of devices connected to IoT, including those with low-power consumption, continue to rely on disposable batteries. The demand for batteries is prevalent in local retail stores where not long ago an 8-pack of AA batteries was considered a bulk package. Now, it is not uncommon to see 72-pack AA and AAA batteries sitting on the shelves and in our homes. In fact, billions of batteries are used every year for key fobs, door locks, sensors, remotes, computer mice, keyboards, beacons, wearables and more.

Redefining battery life

After decades of creating ubiquitous embedded wireless connectivity, it’s time to take a fresh look at redefining battery life for wirelessly connected devices. The market requires a new vision that not only extends the lifetime, but in some cases completely eliminates our reliance on batteries.

The obvious choice to extend battery life of a device is to lower its power consumption. Through Bluetooth 5.0, along with a combination of circuit-level and system-level innovations, it is now possible to reduce the power consumption to a low enough level for energy harvesting to be a genuinely viable power source. This enables the possibility for  battery life that lasts forever or battery-free devices.

When does a pipe dream become reality?

In the early days of Wi-Fi development, its range and data rates were considered to be too inferior to ever replace the Ethernet cable. Two decades later, Wi-Fi is the preferred internet connection for smart buildings and businesses. A new generation has grown up never needing an Ethernet cable; many of them don’t even know what one is. For them, Wi-Fi and Internet are synonymous. There is a similar journey ahead with forever battery or battery-free IoT devices. Bluetooth 5.0 is one of the wireless technologies that is sufficient for low data range applications that most IoT solutions fall under. As engineers continue to push the envelope of low-power design and energy harvesting, more devices and applications will benefit from significantly longer battery life and battery-free operation. Forever battery and battery-free technology enables new use cases and applications that are yet to be invented. Maybe in the near future, a new generation will grow up in a world where they will never need to change batteries.

The ultimate cost

While energy harvesting capabilities evolve for connected devices, it’s only a matter of time before forever batteries are commonplace in industrial IoT, smart commercial buildings and beyond. Meanwhile, remember that the cost of wirelessly connected devices rarely end at the initial purchase. Building managers are burdened with purchasing and replacing batteries, as well as spending hours to ensure devices are sufficiently powered. The next time a battery must be replaced, the question that will be asked is this: Do these battery-operated devices require an upgrade to a newer low power model optimized with energy harvesting?

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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