Energous Partners to Offer Battery-Free IoT

By Claire Swedberg

The company is growing its wireless energy solution to power BLE tags with new certification for use in Japan, and has teamed up with InnoTractor and Thinaer.

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Wireless power technology company Energous has recently signed partnerships with Thinaër and InnoTractor to deliver over-the-air charging technology as part of its Internet of Things (IoT)-based inventory- and asset-management solutions. The technology consists of Energous's WattUp PowerBridge nodes, which transmit 1 watt of power via 900 MHz wireless transmission, as well as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Bluetooth beacons or sensors that capture power from the chargers and transmit data to a receiver, which then relays the message to devices such as gateways or mobile phones.

Cesar Johnston

Cesar Johnston

In addition, Energous recently received regulatory approval in Japan to begin providing its RF-based wireless power system in that country, according to Cesar Johnston, Energous's CEO. Labeling technology firm Sato has been demonstrating a shelf label-based management system using the Energous technology with Wiliot's postage-stamp-sized IoT Pixel tags. The solution enables the battery-free tags to be applied to shelf labels, and to send data with Energous-based wireless power regarding such shelf conditions as when products are stocked or have gone out of stock.

Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications recently completed its approval for the company's RF-based wireless power, following similar approvals from South Korea, China, the United States, Canada, Europe, India, Australia and New Zealand. Energous reports that it now has 10 proof-of-concept deployments underway throughout the world. With the nod from Japan's regulatory body, Johnston explains, "This reinforces the fact that wireless power networks are happening, and it's important for national and worldwide purposes."

InnoTractor Striving for Zero-Waste Supply Chains

Netherlands-based InnoTractor launched four years ago to provide IoT solutions for more sustainable logistics and supply chains, recalls Frank Hermans, the company's founder and CEO. At that time, he says, "We found that there's a big gap in the enterprise segment in the use of technology." That meant it was missing opportunities to solve some of the problems around waste, excess cost and energy use with IoT technologies. Hermans says InnoTractor has a mission to create zero-waste supply chains. "Our firm belief," he says, "is that by applying technology, we can really achieve a goal to be much more effective and efficient."

For years, Hermans explains, "It's been quite apparent that there's a need to get a grip on supply chain [management]." The supply chain can be boiled down to moving products from A to B, he says, but knowledge about the details of each product's movement and status is missing. "We want to help our customers show what products are ready to be shipped, what products are on their way and, if they are on their way, where [they are] and who is responsible for them." Beyond that, the company's mission is to build technology that identifies which products have arrived at their destination, with a proof of delivery.

Frank Hermans

Frank Hermans

InnoTractor began working with Energous last year. Its solution consists of battery-free IoT tags from Wiliot, the Energous charging devices, and InnoTractor's own gateway and software. The technology was piloted by freight company Scania to track shipments from a supplier in Sweden to a production facility in the Netherlands. Adhesive tags are attached to goods, with data transmitted via ambient energy harvested from Energous devices to gateways throughout the supply chain.

A company in the mining industry, which has asked to remain unnamed, is using the technology to view information about pallets that carry mined material to customers, and to ensure those customers are properly charged for each delivery. InnoTractor is working with another businesses that is tracking its pool of returnable transport items (RTIs) to ensure they do not go missing, and that they are properly routed, in order to prevent any shortages in the RTI supply chain ecosystem.

The technology is also being tested or planned for use in tracking conditions in the fresh food and pharmaceutical chains, by measuring temperatures, humidity or other sensor data and then transmitting that information, along with each tag's unique identifier. Other sensor information includes shock detection in transportation and the warehousing of products such as tiles, which are vulnerable to breakage.

Several Netherlands hospitals are employing InnoTractor technology to monitor reagents used for blood and urine sample testing. "It is really crucial that those reagents are available at the different test locations," Hermans explains, and that they remain within the boundaries of their expiry dates. The technology helps users locate the products and identify which need to be used first, or which are approaching expiration. Users who know not only what they have onsite, but also which goods are in transit toward their facility, can create a virtual inventory of everything within a warehouse or en route. "That gives [the user] a much better grip on their production process."

Tracking Goods Securely and Shutting Down in Classified Areas

Similar to InnoTractor, Dallas-based IoT company Thinaër plans to incorporate Energous's wireless powering functionality to help organizations improve efficiency, reduce costs and boost outcomes in industrial manufacturing and warehousing. Thinaër's software platform enables the generation of a digital twin of a company or organization's operations to measure results, says Bryan Merckling, Thinaër's CEO.

The company is focused on three features, Merckling says: out-of-the-box IoT, by offering a full plug-and-play solution; customized experience with visualization tools, aimed at everyone from novice users to systems integrators with advanced application programming interfaces; and a focus on the "Internet of Everything." Historically, he notes, tracking goods like small components or tools has been too expensive. But with passive IoT tags, Merckling says, "We have the price point that allows you to tag everything," down to a bag of bolts used in manufacturing.

Bryan Merckling

Bryan Merckling

Thinaër is focused on building solutions for government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and for the industrial manufacturing sector. The company offers white-label versions of third-party sensors that can be used to identify an object, or to offer a host of sensor measurements. "So whether it's just a simple location thing with an active beacon, all the way to vibration at 50,000 reads per second," Merckling says, the company offers sensors specific to the application. Thinaër makes its own gateways that are sold for approximately $325, which can be deployed in a particular coverage area. The devices can sweep the air for signals, and they can leverage the company's algorithms to accomplish trilateration and edge computing.

The firm has installed a solution for the DoD that can monitor assets in secure areas, and the technology can go dormant in classified areas. To accomplish this, Merckling says, Thinaër deployed Energous devices at entrances to its classified area, then used those devices to send high-power transmissions, "to flood and drain a passive sticker before it enters a classified area." The tag naturally resumes operation once it exits the classified area and comes within range of an Energous device.

Thinaër can provide customers with sensor data that includes temperature measurements, humidity, vibration, light sensing, fall detection, angles of arms or voltage amperage, among around 40 options. Going forward, Merckling says, the company hopes to drive what it calls out-of-the-box IoT, as well as the Internet of Everything. "We think you'll see more and more companies adopting [he technology] for a complete visual of everything that's going on in their operation," he states.


Key Takeaways:

  • Energous's wireless charging technology has been certified for use in Japan, and the company now has 10 proofs-of-concept underway worldwide.
  • InnoTractor and Thinaër have signed partnerships with Energous to offer the BLE-based charging feature to customers as part of their IoT solutions.