The 21st century is witnessing rapid advancements in the IoT space with the advent of wireless power technology. In a world where thousands of sensors surround us every day, a new method to power devices is critical for the Internet of Things to fulfill its potential. Nikola Labs is a renowned player in the wireless power technology space who develops and demonstrates radio frequency (RF) harvesting technology, which can be embedded directly into devices to achieve the new method of delivering power, wireless power transfer.
In 2014, Nikola Labs spun-out from The Ohio State University’s world renown Electro science Laboratory (ESL) to commercialize wireless power technology invented by Dr. Chi-Chih Chen, who now serves as the company’s CTO. Dr. Chen, who is a fellow with both IEEE and AMTA, developed a state-of-the-art system that conveys energy using radio frequencies waves which are captured on effective antennas and efficiently converted into direct current (DC) power with advanced circuitry. OSU’s foundational patents are licensed exclusively to Nikola Labs.
Over the past three and a half years, significant progress has been made to improve the technology and make it suitable for commercial deployment. Working in partnership with technology leaders Texas Instruments and Skyworks Solutions, the circuitry to convert RF to DC was miniaturized down to a single chip. The resulting INDRA chip, the first device of its kind on the market, is available for customer sampling and testing. Additionally, the Nikola team is developing associated components, including a suite of compatible antennas and a transmitter/transponder that incorporates charging and communications in one system.
Nikola Labs is out to solve the remote power problem of the Internet of things (IoT). Today, IoT, especially in the industrial sector, is not living up to its potential because device life and functionality are constrained by battery capacity. Nikola’s technology provides consistent power, enabling edge devices to operate perpetually.
Today, power is provided by either batteries or wired connections. Running wires can be impractical and expensive, creating a hurdle for IoT implementations. Batteries are the more common choice, but also have limitations where functionality and reporting frequency are curtailed to improve device life. The need to replace batteries also creates a new maintenance task, an unwelcome consequence of IoT installations that often aim to minimize maintenance. A solution to this is wireless power, more specifically radio frequency to direct current (RF-to-DC). Nikola offers both standard and custom solutions to power long-lived, high functioning IoT devices.
Making a Difference
Nikola Labs has a small number of direct competitors that are also commercializing RF-to-DC wireless power technologies, including Energous, Ossia, and Powercast among others. Nikola Labs is differentiated by its highly efficient circuit technology, which is exclusively licensed from The Ohio State University, and market focus on industrial IoT. Most competitors are pursuing the consumer electronics segment, such as mobile phones, which is very challenging for a number of reasons, including a mismatch between power demand and the amount that can be practically delivered wirelessly.
Overcoming the Challenges
The Nikola Labs team testifies that their journey has been a bit rocky but very satisfying. The company was originally founded to commercialize an energy harvesting mobile phone case that could prolong battery life by up to 30%. However, the degree of energy harvesting was tied to the amount of waste radio frequency transmissions from the phone and operating system updates reduced this to a point where there was less than 5% battery life extension. However, this setback forced the company to pivot and put them on a better path. The same technology is now at the core of the company’s wireless power solutions for IoT devices.
A Passionate Trailblazer
Will Zell, CEO and Founding Partner of Nikola Labs, has founded three technology companies in addition to building successful real estate and retail ventures over the past nine years. He is deeply passionate about seeing startups succeed, serving for a time as the Managing Director of a startup accelerator. Although, a firm believer in the power of technology, Will understands that business is conducted between people and is devoted to operate Nikola Labs with the highest level of integrity. Will draws from a broad range of experience in communications, organizational development, leadership, brand development, and innovation. He brings drive and passion to the Nikola Labs team.
The Best is yet to come
In a world that currently has 40+ billion connected devices, Nikola Labs is providing wireless power solutions to significantly improve the experience for IoT users, installers, and maintainers. Nikola’s technology offers far-field wireless power at distances up to 30 feet, the power needed to “run” IoT devices. This is important because it keeps these devices perpetually powered so they have an uninterrupted operation and continuous data flow from no/low maintenance networks. Nikola Labs believes that there are significant improvements to be made that can increase the power supplied at distance and reduce the energy consumption of connected devices. Together, these strategies allow for higher functioning devices to be powered at greater distances, opening up new market opportunities for the company’s wireless power technology. The Nikola Labs team promises to bring forth highly efficient wireless powered products to the market in the near future, which will eventually take RF harvesting technology to a whole new level.