Battery-Free IoT Devices are Almost Here

Imagine never having to worry about your iPhone or laptop battery running down when you’re unable to charge your device. This sounds like fantasy, but it could be reality soon.

No, it’s not a magical battery that lasts forever – it’s technology designed to run on the energy of visible light, including LEDs.

Technically, every source of visible light emits energy that can be harvested and repurposed. For instance, solar panels harvest the energy from the sun and transform it into electricity. However, solar panels only harvest and utilize energy. However, this new technology will also use light to receive data/communication.

In the case of battery-free IoT devices, researchers are finding ways to utilize the energy from Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) to power a device while using LiFi and RF backscatter to transmit data.

LiFi may hold the key to a battery-free IoT world

It’s hard to imagine devices that don’t require a battery, but it’s entirely possible. LiFi is a wireless communication system that uses the light from LEDs to transmit data to IoT devices like smartphones and laptops. These IoT devices have a receiver that can pick up light signals and send data back to the lamp through infrared (IR) light.

Can you imagine running a business that operates with this battery-free technology? Light-harvesting IoT devices would transform small businesses and large corporations in a big way.

If you’re a business owner or a manager, keep an eye on the SmallBiz Technology blog for information on the potential applications of new IoT technology in business.

Wi-Fi uses light to transmit data, but is limited

Using light to transmit data isn’t new. Existing Wi-Fi technology utilizes light that moves through fiber optic cables. However, the wireless portion of transmission uses radio waves to transmit data between devices.

Although it’s useful, Wi-Fi has limits. Unfortunately, radio waves can become overloaded as each new device connects to varying networks over Wi-Fi. When radio waves become overloaded, this is known as spectrum crunch. Researchers are now looking into LiFi to support the exponentially growing demand for more bandwidth.

LiFi can increase the bandwidth available to wireless IoT devices by around 1,000 times. Digital signals can be carried by direct light or the light that gets reflected off of surfaces, like walls. Although it hasn’t replaced Wi-Fi yet, LiFi could technically be used in your home or in an office to create wireless local network and internet connections.

RF backscatter is also a key component in a battery-free IoT world

You might not think the light from LEDs is powerful enough to power a device like a smartphone. After all, a smartphone battery drains quickly, even when you’re not using the device.

With LiFi, you don’t need as much power. The system transmits data using RF backscatter, which doesn’t require much power. It’s perfectly doable with the power of LEDs. Solar cells are used to harvest the energy, much like a standard solar panel. However, the data transmissions can be reconfigured to support various transmission needs.

To lean more about this process and its applications, check out the study titled Rethinking LiFi for Low-Power and Long Range RF Backscatter.

Existing lighting infrastructure would need to be retrofitted

You may have heard about LED light bulbs that can transmit data. With the exception of small incandescent bulbs for night lights and other small devices, LEDs are now the only kind of light bulb you can buy in the store. At first, this seemed like it was an energy-saving move. Now, it’s beginning to look like it was designed to lay the foundation for an IoT-connected world.

For those who have already started using smart LED light bulbs, it won’t take much to transition into a battery-free world.

The downside to LiFi-powered devices and networks

There is one major drawback to using devices powered by visible light. When the light source disappears, the device won’t function. This means that in order to use these devices, consumers will need to have their lights on in the house or whatever building they’re occupying. During a power outage, there won’t be a source of light.

Battery-powered devices store the energy to use later, which makes them fully functional during a power outage or when the lights are turned off.

Although this presents a significant problem, there’s no doubt that researchers will find a way around this dilemma. For instance, we might see light-powered IoT devices that have batteries, but don’t rely on the batteries unless/until there is no light source.

Although they’re not available yet, it’s only a matter of time before the first breakthrough LiFi device emerges.