This fall at least two smartphone cases come on the market that promise to keep our smartphones running with the free energy harvested from stray radio frequency waves.
It sounds to good to be true. Using the free energy of radio frequency waves that surround us today can be harvested to keep smartphone batteries charged. There are two companies we know off that are planing to release a RF energy harvesting smartphone case this fall. Last week we reported about startup K3Ops that will release the K3-Case this fall.
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Another startup is Nikola Labs, which plans to start a Kickstarter project for a RF energy harvesting smartphone case this month. The two RF energy harvesting devices are similar in their core using a Rectenna invented in the 60s, but are very different on how the harvest RF energy.
Rectennas transform RF into DC power. Nikola Labs' technology, developed at the Ohio State University, uses the radio signals emanating from the smartphone as source for energy. The company claims that the Nikola Labs case can make smartphone battery last 30% longer.
"When we communicate with a cell tower or Wi-Fi router, so much energy goes to waste," explained Chi-Chih Chen in a report released by the OSU, research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. "We recycle some of that wasted energy back into the battery."
The Nikola Labs technology only when a phone is transmitting, e.g. when a user is sending email, texting or talking on a phone. The case is harvesting the stray RF waves for energy without interfering with the transmission Nikola Labs claims. The Nikola Labs case is supposed to sell for about $100.
K3Ops K3-Smartphone case is using a different approach for RF energy harvesting. K3Ops intentionally excludes the RF ranges of the smartphone in order to not interfere with the signal. The K3Ops case uses a wide-band RF energy harvester with high sensitivity to harvest from the ultra-low levels of RF energy. The case has a special power management that only charges the battery at certain levels to optimize the energy needed.
There are also user controlled options to configure the K3-Case via an app to optimize the frequencies the case will harvest for energy to avoid interference with other devices. The K3OPs case will only work with smartphones that support wireless charging (QI compliant), like the Samsung Galaxy S6.
The new wave of RF energy harvesting gadgets could change the way we keep our gadgets charged. Will they live up to the promise in the real world? We will have to wait until Fall to find out when we can go hands-on with these RF energy harvesting cases. Nikola Labs will release more details this month when their Kickstarter project launches.
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Another player in the wireless charging segment is Energous with their WattUp technology. This is related technology to RF energy harvesting, but WattUp is design to send energy to devices directly. WattUp can transmits power over RF over a distance of up to 5 meters. Highly targeted and dynamic pockets of energy are delivered via multiple miniature antenna arrays and custom control chips in the transmitter, or Power Router. Highly efficient energy harvesting of the micro energy beams from these pockets then takes place via paired antenna arrays and custom chips in the receiver devices.