Long-Range Wireless Power Network Lights Up IIoT Sensors

Article By : Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

TransferFi is a start-up that is working on new wireless charging solutions for industrial IoT sensor networks at a distance of 50 meters. This creates an interesting digital path leading to the complete realization of Industry 4.0 and the digital economy...

More than 60% of the costs associated with an industrial IoT (IIoT) set-up are estimated to be for cabling and installation. Wireless data transfer is an obvious means for eliminating some cabling, but even more could be avoided by also using wireless technology for power transfer.

TransferFi is a start-up that is working on new wireless charging solutions for industrial IoT sensor networks at a distance of 50 meters (roughly 165 feet).

The wireless technology is well known, but the design of transmitters, their location, the possibility of maximizing efficiency, and validating the behavior of the entire system represent complex challenges that require the use of complex engineering solutions. The inevitable cost of cabling adds to the barriers not only to the IIoT and Industry 4.0, but also smart grids and smart cities. Large scale sensor installations require a complex wiring infrastructure that is costly, takes a long time to install.

TransferFi has developed the TFi Turin-1 wireless power network  (WPN) platform that makes it possible to have reliable implementations that can replace power cables or batteries with limited cycle times.

“Our TFi WPN IIoT system-level architecture is designed for Industrial IoT applications which do require a long-range wireless power network accommodating multiple targets. We use radio frequency as it’s more suitable for far-field/long-range applications. All this is commercially possible with the Turin platform as it automates the real-world use and deployability of the far-field wireless power network, said Aashish Mehta, co-founder and CEO at TransferFi.

Wireless power transfer

Wireless power transfer (WPT) techniques fall into two main categories: near-field and far-field. They both have advantages and disadvantages.

Near-field, non-radiative techniques are best for transferring energy over short distances by magnetic fields through inductive coupling between wire coils or electric fields through capacitive coupling between metal electrodes. Inductive coupling is today the most widely used wireless technology.

Far-field, radiant field technology — also called power beaming — consists of transferring power by electromagnetic radiation, such as microwaves or laser beams. These techniques can carry energy over longer distances but must be targeted at the receiver. Beamforming techniques are used to improve the focus of the beam.

WPT via dedicated radio frequency (RF) transmission is increasingly popular in IoT applications. Beamforming is the holy grail of WPT technology as it allows a higher signal quality to be delivered to the receiver without the need to increase transmission power. To get an adequate beam, the transmitter must be equipped with a large number of antennas for adaptive beam formation and control the direction of beam energy focus.

Figure 1: wireless power transfer block diagram. Click to enlarge the image (Source: TransferFi)
Figure 1: wireless power transfer block diagram. (Source: TransferFi)

TFi Turin 1
TransferFi has created an auto-calibration system that optimizes the targeting, time-sharing, and the signal according to the position of the receiver targets and the application load.

The current platform consists of a TFi Gateway and TFi Sense units with various sensors. The TFi Gateway uses far-field RF wireless power transfer to power and communicates data with TFi Sense devices up to a range of 50 meters.

“We have created beamforming and a signal optimization algorithms to focus the beam towards the target devices,” said Aashish. He continued, “We have worked on the overall system-level architecture with algorithms that optimize both the transmission and receiving end. Our patents are focused on these areas: optimization for better RF to DC conversion and precise beamforming angles; shorter deployment time using TFi One Click calibration and time-sharing software; enhanced beam focus with a 16 channel TFi Gateway.”

Beamforming is a process that directs a wireless signal to a specific receiving device, rather than spreading the signal other directions. The resulting more direct connection is faster and more reliable compared to avoiding the use of the beamforming technique. In recent years, beamforming technologies have evolved thanks to the diffusion of 5G.

One technique for doing this involves using several antennas in close proximity, all transmitting the same signal at slightly different times. The overlapping waves will produce interferences that are constructive (making the signal stronger) in some areas, and destructive (making the signal weaker, or undetectable) in other areas. If correctly operated, this beamforming process can direct the signal where you want it to go.

Figure 2: beamforming to improve efficiency (Source: TransferFi)
Figure 2: beamforming to improve efficiency. (Source: TransferFi)

Figure 3: the current TFi System for Industrial IoT (Source: TransferFi)
Figure 3: the current TFi System for Industrial IoT. (Source: TransferFi)

Not only is focusing a beam far more efficient than blasting it in all directions, the technique can reduce interferences experienced by those trying to intercept other signals. The limits may lie in the computing resources to perform complex computational tasks to achieve the best efficiency. But continuous improvements in hardware and software resources can compensate for these limitations.

“Overall, the Turin platform is designed to be hardware and application-agnostic, so it can be used for any application with the right type of hardware for it. The current product release, TFi WPN IIoT, is targeted for condition monitoring, smart building automation and heat mapping for environmental sensing (used in server rooms and cold storage rooms). We are working with multinational companies within industrial automation, semiconductor, logistics, and automotive,” said Aashish.

Future industrial concepts such as Industry 4.0, smart buildings, and smart grids require large scale sensor deployments which require complex wiring infrastructure that takes very long to deploy and hurts business with expensive downtime. With the current wired sensor deployments, the majority of deployment time is wasted on installation & cabling, which consumes more than 60% of the overall sensor deployment budget. The TFi WPN platform provides non-invasive sensor deployments reducing the complexity of wiring infrastructure.

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