Reimagining the Smart Home in a Battery-Free World – Embedded Computing Design
The age of the smart home is here. Recently, Bluetooth released its Market Update announcing that a whopping 1.15 billion annual shipments of Bluetooth smart home devices are expected by 2023. Gone are the days of wondering what it might be like to control lighting with a voice command, or automatically regulate a home’s temperature. Smart home technology has reached a point where it has become widely accepted and widely accessible – with data to back it up.
Voice Assistants are one of the most familiar smart home devices to many consumers, both for entertainment and performing some level of home automation, but there are many other emerging technologies that make up the smart home. Smart home technology can be categorized into three different sectors: home entertainment – such as remotes, voice assistants, audio systems; home utilities – like connected refrigerators or washing machines; and home automation – including security systems, sprinklers, thermostats, and so on. Each category includes a number of connected devices that require an increasing number of batteries.
Why does this matter? As the number of wireless devices grows, the number of batteries grow. As the number of batteries grow, we’re seeing major increases in the financial and environmental costs of replacing them. Why aren’t batteries lasting longer? Let’s go one step deeper…
Most IoT devices are wireless, meaning they must connect to the internet via a source like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or ZigBee. Wi-Fi is best suited for high throughput apps and streaming data to connected devices. ZigBee works well too, but it requires a hub that connects devices to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, thus it’s a two-step connection. Then, of course, there’s Bluetooth, which has advanced to BLE or Bluetooth 5, with long, Wi-Fi-like range in the home and compatibility with smart phones, laptops and other devices.
These sources are important as we look at examples within the emerging smart home categories. Take a home security device, for example. There are now portable sensors in these devices that run off batteries and connect to security systems via Bluetooth. Because the sensors are constantly sensing and connecting, the battery quickly runs out or the device requires a larger or more batteries to avoid draining. This means continuous monitoring for the battery replacement and a much higher opportunity cost for a dead battery in a security device.
This scenario can be applied across any connected in-home device: automated door locks, automated sprinkler systems, temperature sensors, and a multitude of other such applications. Many of them are battery powered and U.S. regulation does not allow use of rechargeable batteries in many of them. Once again, we’re faced with the challenge of replacing a battery very frequently.
Now imagine a world where you can extend the life of a device by extending battery replacement from “every few months” to “every few years” to “the entire life of the device.” This can be achieved by leveraging various sources of power – RF, thermal, light, and mechanical – to harvest energy for the growing number of connected devices. Once the power consumption of connected nodes is dramatically reduced, they can potentially run off of harvested ambient energy from the environment. This extends battery life significantly or eliminates the need of batteries altogether, and greatly reduces the huge financial and environmental impact that comes with constantly replacing batteries. Most importantly, the fear of a device monitoring security or locks in the home will not face the challenge of going dark due to battery drainage.
The age of the smart home as arrived, and the number of devices connecting to the IoT will only grow. That’s why creating the Forever Battery or Battery Free solutions is essential, so that consumers can seamlessly connect devices in their home without worrying about cost of battery failure.