Skip to main content

IoT could be powered by Wi-Fi not cables

There is currently a battle underway over the Internet of Things. Samsung has its ARTIK platform while Huawei is pinning its hopes on its tiny LiteOS -- and Microsoft has Windows 10's AllJoyn feature which could prove pivotal in the widespread uptake of the IoT.

There is still plenty of scope for innovation, and it seems that the next great leap forward for connected devices could be the delivery of power over Wi-Fi. A team of US researchers have developed a technique that can be used to power small devices without the need for wires or battery changes.

The potential for power-over-Wi-Fi (or PoWi-Fi) is huge. Wireless signals are now pretty ubiquitous, and it makes sense to try to tap into them for more than just the transfer of data if at all possible. The team published a paper demonstrating that it is possible to power a small surveillance camera wirelessly and it is hoped that the same technique could be used to power sensors and other devices that will interact with systems via the Internet of Things.

Overcoming the problem of power delivery will open up new possibilities for how the IoT could be used. If there's no need to worry about running cables to sensors, or ensuring that cameras can be easily accessed to have batteries changed, it is possible to get a little more creative. PoWi-Fi is the handiwork of Vamsi Talla and others from the Sensor Systems Lab at the University of Washington, Seattle and it could be integrated into routers in the near future.

The team had to overcome a few problems to get the technique to work. Firstly, Wi-Fi signals are only usable when they are broadcasting, and in the case of routers and the like, insufficient voltage is supplied wirelessly when data is not being transferred. The solution to this - and simultaneously overcoming the problem of interfering with data transfers - researchers modified a router to continuously broadcast on channels that were not used for other purposes.

In tests, this meant that an unconnected camera was able to gather enough power to take a photograph over a period of 35 minutes. Things are obviously in the very early stages of development but it's a project that's sure to gather momentum and interest very quickly.

Photo credit: dolphfyn / Shutterstock