Science Gazette

Wireless charging has never been more flexible thanks to new power transfer technologies

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Devices may be charged in any posture or orientation, even while on the go

It’s been difficult to charge gadgets securely anywhere in a vast region, but researchers have devised a transfer mechanism that can route electricity to particular devices without knowing their position. Commercial robots have been employed to test the technology, and it can also be used to charge phones, laptops, and other home electronics. There are no connectors, no monitoring, and no complicated computation involved; just a creative use of electromagnetics is required. Because devices can be charged while in motion, this technology might eventually be used to power electric automobiles on the road.

A novel power transmission method allows users to charge electronics without the need of cables or connectors. Warehouse robots, kitchen appliances, and even phones and laptops can all get power from the charging area, and since the power transfer continues even while the item is in motion, this technology may one day be used to fuel electric cars while they’re on the road.

Although the fundamentals of wireless power transmission have long been in place, current solutions are unable to charge devices placed anywhere within a vast region. When a single huge transmitter is used to cover a vast region, it causes undesirable electromagnetic exposure and makes it impossible to manage the power flow to specific devices. The receiving devices must be in a known place, and the transmitter and receiver must be perfectly aligned if multiple tiny transmitters are employed. This implies that the system must either utilize permanent charging stations or include position sensors, communication protocols, and processing to monitor each receiver’s location.

Aalto University researchers have addressed these issues by designing a power transfer method that works independent of the transmitter and receiver’s location and orientation. The basic concept is to organize the transmitters in a grid, with current flowing in opposing directions in neighboring transmitters — for example, a clockwise loop in one transmitter and counter-clockwise loops in its neighbors.

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This results in a chessboard-like grid of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ transmitting coils connected by a magnetic flux. The magnetic flux between positive and negative transmitters is captured by a receiver atop the grid of transmitters, which provides an electric current to charge the device.

‘The beauty of our technology is that it is both simple and smart,’ says Prasad Jayathurathnage, the project’s lead postdoctoral researcher. ‘To make the transmitters intelligent, we don’t need a high-end CPU or a lot of calculations.’ It’s all an electromagnetic system at the end of the day, and our strategy was to find out how to detect the receiver’s existence and location electromagnetically.’

The system may function without any location tracking or communication between the receivers and transmitters since the presence of a receiver prompts the power transfer. This also implies that rather of energizing the whole area, electricity is just delivered to the receiver, allowing many devices to be charged at the same time.

By tiling transmitters together, you may create a charging space of any size and form. The transmitters are then triggered at a reduced power level. ‘It’s really a search — the transmitters are looking for a receiver,’ says Shamsul Al Mahmud, a doctorate student working on the project. When power is sent to a receiver, the nearby transmitters go into alert mode, ready to transfer power if the receiver appears above them.

‘We had practically constant efficiency and constant power received independent of the receiver’s location and orientation with this design,’ says Ishtiaque Panhwar, a project researcher, and the power transmission proceeded smoothly even as the receiving device moved about.

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In collaboration with Finnish business Solteq Robotics, the technology has been tested with commercial warehouse robots, and Jayathurathnage also heads the Parkzia project, which is financed by Business Finland. The project’s goal is to bring this innovative technology to the market for use in industry and transportation. ‘Taking this technology out of the lab and witnessing it in action in the warehouse was a thrilling experience for me,’ Jayathurathnage adds. ‘I was taking the result of 10 years of study out of the lab for the first time.’

Apps that are more known to us might also help us in our everyday lives. ‘Take, for example, kitchen appliances,’ adds Jayathurathnage. ‘At the present, in order for a rice cooker or a blender to acquire electricity, you must place it in a certain location.’ However, we can use our technique to turn the whole kitchen counter into a power source for appliances or even phones, but the electromagnetic field is only formed underneath the equipment.’

Although the technology is largely ready for real-world use, commercial packaging and certification are still required. Meanwhile, Jayathurathnage and his colleagues will continue to enhance and polish this technique. One of their objectives is to increase the power levels from roughly 1 kW to around 20 kW, allowing the technology to be utilized to charge electric automobiles. ‘Around the globe, there are pilot programs on electrifying highways,’ adds Jayathurathnage. ‘Electric cars are a fantastic use of this technology,’ says the author.

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