Key Challenges in the IoT Landscape

Will Zell | CEO & Founding Partner | Nikola Labs - Insights Success

IoT has a power problem. The promise of IoT is that of invisible connectivity that allows for sensors and devices that disappear into the environment and provide important information so that we all can live healthier, more efficient lives. Wireless communication makes this possible, but there’s a catch, batteries. The finite capacity of batteries, presents a difficult trade-off between performance and device life. Some electronic devices can operate for years on a single battery, but only if they perform their function and report infrequently. Other devices provide rich streams of data, but these have far shorter lives. High functioning, long lived devices, are only possible with a reliable power supply, such as that offered by Nikola Labs’ radio frequency to direct current (RF to DC) wireless power solutions. The supply of consistent power allows for a need breed of IoT networks that are completely wireless, data rich and maintenance free.

The use case described below illustrates well the value of Nikola Labs’ wireless power, but it is only one of many valuable applications of this game changing technology.

Manufacturing plants rely on machines to move, mix, make, process, package, pallet, and so much more. These machines are driven by motors with gear boxes and axles on bearings. Every motor and machine requires maintenance, but ‘how much?’ and ‘how soon?’ Historically, these questions have been difficult to answer and often completely unanswerable. So, the choice was either run equipment until failure or perform scheduled maintenance to avoid unexpected shutdowns. The latter became known as Preventive Maintenance, or simply PM. PM was the best practice in industry for decades, but new tech is offering a better way, Predictive Maintenance, or PdM. The availability of low cost wireless sensors enables the monitoring of vibration, temperature and other parameters that together with sophisticated software can foretell equipment inconsistencies, and better guide maintenance efforts.

PdM offers two key benefits: improved process uptime and lower maintenance cost, both of which directly impact profitability. With such promise, PdM should be in every factory, but it’s not. A key factor behind slow adoption, ironically, is the burden associated with placing hundreds or thousands of battery powered sensors in any given facility. Even with years long anticipated battery life, they eventually need to be replaced or recharged, and the prospect of adding a new maintenance activity when the goal is to reduce maintenance is a significant deterrent.

Wireless power is the answer. By reliably providing power at distance, Nikola Labs’ technology enables PdM sensors to offer all the benefits without the added burden of changing batteries. A single transponder transmits power to multiple sensors and acts as a communication hub gathering the vibration, temperature and other data periodically and sending this information to the cloud or a local network, where it is visualized and used to guide maintenance decisions.

Beyond PdM, wireless power can improve a wide range of IoT offerings that serve industry as well as those used in Smart homes/buildings, health/medical, connected cities, as well as military and space. Promising applications include:

  • Smart City – Success of smart cities hinges on acquiring, analyzing and acting on large amounts of data collected across often sprawling urban areas. While big data gets most of the attention, it is simply an aggregation of data points from strategically placed sensors. Today, such sensors are powered by batteries or mains power and require frequent maintenance or retrofitting and infrastructure disruption. Nikola Labs’ technology offers a better solution that can greatly reduce the cost and complexity of implementing smart city networks. By harnessing energy from radio and TV broadcasts, cellular networks and magnetic fields from electrical distribution infrastructure, the tech provides the power needed for critical, long range sensors.
  • Smart Home – Mankind has long desired a home that thinks and acts to keep its occupants safe, warm and well cared for, and now IoT is making this dream a tantalizing reality. However, finite battery capacity limits device life and constrains performance. Wireless power is the answer, enabling perpetually powered networks that allow IoT to fulfill its potential and help us to live smarter, healthier and more efficient lives. Nikola Labs’ wireless power technology allows for the proliferation of embedded sensors that never need to be maintained. So, smart homes of the future will be highly functional and aware, as well as aesthetically pleasing.
  • Health/Medical – In the coming decade, tiny medical implants will provide early detection of diseases, pain relief and myriad other health benefits. These devices must operate for many years but nobody wants to plug themselves into an outlet. A better solution is Nikola Labs’ wireless power that will charge implants in situ. The technology can also enhance health care by improving hospital operations. Completely wireless sensors and devices can monitor patients, room conditions and much more, ensuring the highest level of care and best health outcomes.
  • Space & Military – The vastness of space and what secrets it may hold have inspired and propelled us to escape the gravitation pull of Earth and venture into the beyond. Over the past decades, great strides have been made to reduce the cost of lifting cargo into orbit. However, despite these gains, liftoff weight remains a critical metric that must be minimized. Eliminating wires and leaving power cables at home can help. Nikola Labs stands ready to support efforts as mankind endeavors to be an interplanetary species.
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