Cutting the Cords on Sensor Networks Strengthens AI

By Charles Goetz

Without a reliable, scalable and flexible power solution for the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence cannot deliver on its full potential.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning devices are directly driven by the interconnected network of sensors that surround us in our industrial and commercial spaces. These devices help to keep public life safer, teach us about community behavior, and even improve the accuracy of marketing and sales initiatives.

The data gathered by these sensor networks is essential to the functionality and continued improvement of AI systems that benefit us all. Progress cannot be made without a continuous and ever-expanding feed of live data to support these artificial decision-making processes. In short, Internet of Things (IoT) quantity leads directly to AI quality. The issue currently stifling the expansion of sensor networks is the attempt to power tomorrow's flexible networks using yesterday's static technologies, mainly wires and batteries.

Running wires is time-consuming, restrictive and expensive. Batteries require replacement, and neither of these options offers an environmentally sustainable way to support the ubiquity of devices that are necessary to support the demands of today's AI capabilities. Until there is a reliable, scalable, cost-effective and flexible power solution for the IoT, AI will not be able to deliver on its full potential. RF wireless power holds the key to unlocking the full potential of the IoT and AI.

Radio frequency energy is all around us every day, everywhere where we go. From the RFID networks in our stores and manufacturing facilities to the Wi-Fi connection keeping our devices online to the signals constantly pinging the cell phones in our pockets, RF is always working behind the scenes to keep us connected. While harnessing these existing signals (ambient harvesting) is technically possible, implementing dedicated RF transmitters is the emerging option to support the expansion of wireless sensor networks. Wireless charging using this method has already been deployed for in-home use and also in factories, and the public sector is next on the technology expansion map.

Smart Parking
The buzz around smart cities has shifted a bit as technology efforts refocused on devices to support COVID-19 safety. As a "new normal" emerges, the demand for low- or no-contact environments has put the future of tech in our public spaces back on the immediate horizon. One such example is in smart parking, for which vehicle-detection sensors are used to direct traffic flow and monitor capacity in parking lots and garages. The sensors used in these scenarios are installed in every parking spot, meaning that there could be anywhere from dozens to thousands of devices in any single deployment.

There are two main types of sensors in this space: pavement-embedded and overhead vehicle-detection sensors. Overhead sensors are typically powered via a wired connection to each parking space, meaning thousands of feet or more of wire is required to install such a wide network for a single facility. Sensors embedded into the pavement that operate on limited-capacity batteries are subject to environmental factors such as temperature and humidity, which could significantly impact battery functionality and lifetime.

Battery-powered and wired sensor systems are quite costly to install and maintain, and often these costs will outweigh the benefits of the system as a whole. Overcoming the problem of wires and batteries can be quite simple—a single power transmitter can reach and power sensors for dozens of parking spots, depending on the configuration. Indoor, outdoor, rain, sun or snow—the power will always be available for sensors within range and replace existing wired and battery-powered solutions. This technology is tried and tested in industrial and commercial environments, and translating those deployments from factories to parking lots is simpler than finding a parking spot at the bank.

Future of AI-Driven RF Wireless Power Solutions
In RFID-rich environments, the request for higher functionality tags is on the rise. From the addition of higher-functionality sensors to more precise location tracking to making active tags easier to adopt and deploy—all of these result in a higher volume of accurate data for the customer, and more information for AI systems to use in their decision-making processes. Dead batteries lead to a period of downtime that can cause larger, more expensive inefficiencies, and wired infrastructure is subject to breakage points, restricted placement options and high implementation costs.

RF power transmitters that can reach devices located up to 80 feet away eliminate both of those headaches. Over-the-air wireless power either keeps batteries continuously topped up or eliminates the need for batteries and wires altogether. As the demand for more highly saturated sensor networks and more accurate data continues to rise, RF wireless power is likely to become a leading solution in enabling the collection of data necessary to add the "smart" to smart cities, smart parking and smart manufacturing.

Charles Goetz is the CEO of  Powercast Corp. He has more than 30 years of professional management, financial and startup experience. Charles was the VP of Theta Fund from 2003 to 2010 and is a former Goldman Sachs managing director. He can be reached at