How Does Wireless Power Enable the Rise of Machines?


Check out our new podcast Our World Without Wires, hosted by AirFuel President Sanjay Gupta! In our second episode Sanjay and Energous CEO, Cesar Johnston dive into the question of how is wireless power enabling the rise of machines? Read below to see how wireless power is facilitating new technology and ideas. Find more episodes with the link below.

Our World Without Wires Podcast

Sanjay: You’ve been in wireless all along and I look at it and say, yes, the power cords are still the last thing we have left, the last wire in our lives still. And how do we get rid of it? So talking about top-down, I would love to hear how you motivate what’s the vision that you have for wireless power? What do you tell customers you can make possible?

Cesar: That is the last wire that we have not been able to remove. We remove the cord maybe over time, and it took us a long time to remove it. I mean, it’s not the past 20 years, it’s been more than 20 years. It’s been a constant evolution. The world started as a wired world because devices were heavy, devices were not to be carried in your hand like phones. But as devices got smaller, communications needed mobility. The reality is that all those devices now as they get bigger or even if they get smaller, also need batteries, batteries have percolated all over our lives from day one. But the time has come to remove that last wire. The wire is there because of the batteries in a way. So we have to handle the batteries. We have to remove the wire. What we’re seeing is not just the removal of the wire, but eventually the removal of the batteries. Now there could be some batteries left, but just thinking about removing batteries and removing wires that is really the goal here.

Sanjay: Cesar, are you, in a way, hinting that we can deliver power to all of these devices that are all around us, by the way, continuously so that they don’t even need batteries in them to operate and continue to do your function? We kind of take batteries and electronic kind of for granted. They go together today.

Cesar: That’s correct. From a technology point of view. And it’s just a pure technology, no certification, even no market vision, for now, just a technology point of view. Let’s be a researcher. Yeah, it is possible. I mean, there are plenty of experiments out there. The US government has done transmission at 1 km and I hear 1.6 kW lately. Now, I really want to be in the middle of that and I don’t want birds to go through that. But the reality is it is possible. Here at Energous, we prove that you can charge a phone at 15ft at sustained one Watt multiple years ago, many years ago. From a technology point of view, yes, definitely. You can remove it and it’s happening to a certain extent now. The challenge is always how much power you can send and what is really legally allowed to do. That’s where the intersection of the market comes in place because the level of power that we are restricted to today limits you to certain markets. That’s when IoT comes into the picture for us.

Sanjay: If I’m a consumer, where can I expect to see some of your technology? First, what use cases?

Cesar: Some of the technologies that we are focusing on here at Energous deal with being able to have the technology to support them, and have the certification to support that. So recently we now have certification for up to one watt of conducted power in the US, Europe, China, India, as well as Canada. We’ll continue to do that, and what you’re effectively doing there is with one, what you can support is low-power IoT devices. So examples of that are RF Tags being able to do tracking and being able to follow devices across a retail floor or an industrial floor. We’re looking at, particularly here at managers. Again, it’s electronic shelf labels, being able to update electronic shop labels in retail areas and anywhere where a display is needed. We’re looking at sensors, sensors that can be of two times like I call them primitive sensors that give you information about temperature or lighting levels or humidity. There are other smarter sensors that are also beginning to show up there that deal with being able to recognize audio and video patterns for sensing purposes. For instance, audio is needed for glasses to detect, let’s say for security purposes, glass is cracked or broken and the audio will recognize and sense and send information that someone is trying to get into your house or so. Or you’ll have video sensing where you’ll be able to see who’s coming in into an area in the office or into your home and into the industrial complex. That is already happening today. Those levels of complexity and power requirements we can support today with energy technology.

Sanjay: After all tracking is everywhere. Everything needs to get tracked. Our logistics networks depend on the ability to track everything and we have electronics to track them. And what you’re telling me is how we can build those things with no batteries?

Cesar: I think what we are enabling now is much heavy processing at the edge. So next-generation asset tracking, where you can now effectively get more information about the devices and the elements that you’re tracking and eventually be able to take the data into the cloud and monetize that data and not just monetize the data, but use that data to make our lives easier, be able to detect where things are, be able to see when the things have left the building, or not being able to do a number of asset tracking things that today are very limited with the current generation of devices.

Sanjay: I think is super awesome is the retail shelf tax that you kind of briefly mentioned, could you tell us a bit more?

Cesar: If you look at our tax and you look at ESL electronic shelf labels, you’re looking at hundreds if not thousands or more of them in heavy concentration in given areas. Today you have your phone, you have other devices that we control. They are all over the place but now you’re multi in that by tremendous factor. So today, if you go to Best Buy as an example, you will see that, let’s say 1 sqft of area, you’ll probably find over 40, 50 displays because there are so many products there. Each one of those has a battery and each one of those, of course, is already connected to the cloud. So it’s massive. It’s just happening in front of us without it being coordinated. So what we have is we have a deployment in our review of IoT devices that is uncoordinated, but it’s going to hit us hard if we don’t do something about that before it happens.

Sanjay: Look, what you’re doing is bringing what people take for granted in the online world and giving the power of that analytics in a brick-and-mortar physical store that has never been possible.

Cesar: That’s correct. If you want to coin a phrase, you can call it distributed, I guess distributed access, distributed internet access. You can come up with some new names but you are correct. We’re taking the power of the web and just basically distributing it all over the place now.

Sanjay: I want to go back to the asset tracking just for a second. I own a couple of air tags. I used to have the tiles, sensors, and so on. The biggest challenge for me is once they are out of battery, I’m lazy, I don’t change them. And then they kind of sit there doing nothing for me, right?

Cesar: That’s correct. So the tile is the first example, I would say, of a tracking device. I think they did very well. I don’t think it percolated as much as they wanted. Certainly, the Apple solution is just a follow-up with that, in my opinion. It probably adds some more value. I’m not really a user of that. What I can tell you is that the tax that we have today with our current partner can effectively do similar functionality from a tracking point of view without batteries. One example that I like personally is I have a lot of leftovers in my garage, my old books from school, and my old collection of this, this, and that. I never remember where things are because they’ve been there for years. So imagine putting one of these labels in everything that you have and eventually being able to know what you have and being able to track it without batteries. Again, you store this for years. We don’t store things for weeks. When I say years, I don’t mean three years, which is what batteries typically last. I think some of my boxes have been there for like 15-20 years, and I don’t remember what’s in there. I do want to know and I don’t have the time to open them up.

Sanjay: Yes. You’re telling me these electronics are going to last?

Cesar: That’s right. As long as the electronics can last, which could reach we all know they will last decades there. As long as transmitters are there, you’ll be able to track.

Sanjay: That is just amazing and actually, that explains to me why Energous has become so focused on this market. We all hear about how these connected IoT devices are everywhere. And now all these forecasts are never correct. But I’m hearing about now they outnumber human-connected devices by five to one. And we all know there are more connected devices that humans use. Everybody has more than one connected device today already. So this is a huge market.

Cesar: There’s now more evidence of what this market looks like. There’s IDC, which is a well-respected market research company out there. And we’re talking about according to them, IoT devices going from 12 billion today to about 40 billion by 2025. We’re talking about a growth of about three and a half times in less than three years. Now you project that certainly once you’re at 40 billion, if you believe in a three and a half over a period of three years, just projected to 2030, multiply that number by three. You’re talking about now, 120 billion or so. It’s massive. These five to one is nothing. Five to one was just the beginning. Now, here’s the problem that you have. Once you have five to one or more than that. Now we’re going to start obliterating all our communication devices because they have not been built to handle hundreds or thousands of devices at once. So access points and 5G cell or devices will just start choking which actually adds to the problem of improving not just the power delivery, but also the communication system.

Sanjay: Yeah, but I guess all of these IoT devices and so on will all be energized inside. I guess that’s really what you’re dreaming and what you’re pushing.

Cesar: I guess we are the company that will remove all those wires and batteries, and we’ll deploy wireless power networks, which effectively will energize your home, your office, your industrial sites, and so on.

Sanjay: Let me ask you one question. Everything has a downside. Everything comes with a cost. What is it about what Energous is unleashing on this world, which now that we all have an idea about what it can do, what concerns you, what bothers you as a CEO of what Genie you mentioned, you’ve kind of gotten out of the bottle here?

Cesar: I would prefer to answer to you as a person, I do see two potential things going on here that are interesting. One of them is definitely what you were saying. We’re going to go and increase the number of IoT devices, which basically effectively is connecting people with everything around us. We’re not happy just by having a phone now and looking at our home or seeing what’s going on there or tracking our little devices. Now we want more control over the world. We’re talking about video sensing. I want to know where people are, what they’re doing, and so on. So we are a fix of control, I guess. And that’s okay. I mean, some of us will do that. And effectively, we’re connecting the world. We’re just putting sensors out there, Tags out there, displays out there, which, by the way, we can control from anywhere, anytime. And that was always a dream. And we know wires in this case, finally. But there’s another side that kind of worries me. You and I come from the early generation of the early gaming devices, where we probably spend some time playing in the early days with more scenes. Then we went to maybe play with an Atari and Nintendo and so on. But if you look at our kids, they’ve been spending tremendous amounts of time with games. And these games are much more complex than the ones that you and I probably played in the early days, even though the hours were fun also. And what I’m afraid of is that what I see is the kids really removing themselves from reality. And now AB and VR are now providing enough power to be able to just be mobile and moving around and being able to just provide enough energy to be able to power those devices. I’m afraid that people are going to be even more disconnected than before. They’re going to start figuring out some alternate world, that is not really true. And that part of it worries me that basically, we’re uniting the world but at the same time, we’re disconnecting the world and people.

Sanjay: Yes, of course. And I somehow believe in the power of technology to be able to self-police itself and solve some of the social issues. That’s a lot of the stuff that we do. The side effects that we see in a way.