Researchers Are Charging Batteries Through Wi-Fi With PoWiFi

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While still in its infancy, scientists at the University of Washington are using a groundbreaking technology to wireless charge devices via Wi-Fi.

What is PoWiFi?

Quite simply, PoWiFi is so named because it delivers “Power Over Wi-Fi.” While the technology could potentially change the world, its scope right now is quite limited but researchers are looking to change that. So far, the University of Washington researchers have managed only to charge a low-resolution grayscale camera as well as a Jawbone fitness tracking device. The former was charged fully from a distance of 17 feet while the Jawbone saw its battery charged from nothing to 41% in about two and a half hours from nearly 30 feet from a simple Wi-Fi router.

While it might not sound like a massive achievement, think of the possibilities. What’s also quite impressive about this technology is that the charging is achieved without slowing down the routers ability to do its intended job, providing wireless Internet.

“For the first time we’ve shown that you can use Wi-Fi devices to power the sensors in cameras and other devices,” UW electrical engineering doctoral student Vamsi Talla said recently. “We also made a system that can co-exist as a Wi-Fi router and a power source — it doesn’t degrade the quality of your Wi-Fi signals while it’s powering devices.”

More details about PoWiFi will be presented next month

The group of researchers behind PoWiFI will present the entirety of their findings next month at CoNext 2015 in Heidelberg, Germany.

The real-world applications are numerous if the team can continue to boost the power deliver potential or routers. UW Today envisions “smart homes” potentially being powered by PoWiFi:

PoWiFi could help enable development of the Internet of Things, where small computing sensors are embedded in everyday objects like cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, air conditioners, mobile devices, allowing those devices to “talk” to each other. But one major challenge is how to energize those low-power sensors and actuators without needing to plug them into a power source as they become smaller and more numerous.

PoWiFi’s “power packets”

In order to charge low power devices through a WiFi signal the team first needed to optimize a router to send out “power packets” pulled from the “peak energy” that Wi-Fi routers already have at hand. The group then directed the router to send these packets out over unused Wi-Fi channels. Using these available idle channels is how the team avoided Wi-Fi signal loss.

Popular Science recently gave a “Best of What’s New 2015” award to the group behind PoWiFi.

“We have a huge Wi-Fi infrastructure already in place. If we can repurpose existing infrastructure for power delivery as well, then we can actually enable wireless power delivery in homes and offices,” added Vamsi Talla recently when discussing the team’s findings.

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