Why Wireless Power will be the Backbone of Smart Cities

November 6, 2017

City governments and tech companies alike are moving fast on smart cities. Last year, 78 cities competed in the nationwide Smart Cities Challenge, presenting their plans to integrate data and Internet technology into their urban infrastructure. Columbus, Ohio, the winner of the challenge, now has a total of $50 million in grants to bring its ideas for connected cars, smart streetlights, and self-driving shuttles to fruition. With local governments across the country thinking about data-driven urban mobility solutions, it seems like we’ll have smart, sustainable city transportation in no time.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that the advent of smart cities is inevitable. The sheer degree of technological integration requires some basic infrastructure that isn’t all there yet. At the core of the smart city vision is data collection, storage, and sharing among countless sources, from utility companies to traffic services. Within that focus is the addition of new data sources coming through sensors that reveal traffic patterns, pedestrian movement, resource consumption, and more. The Internet of Things will require sensors and devices to be powered 24/7, with data transfer capabilities always at the ready.

Under the status quo, this will likely require a gargantuan number of wires to be installed or batteries produced (and replaced) – some estimate we’d need 1 trillion of them in just three years. Installing and maintaining these will be costly, inefficient, and environmentally unsustainable, effectively nullifying the benefits of a smart city in the first place. The devices that make up the backbone of a functioning smart city will have to be powered by another source.

Enter wireless charging. Already, tech companies have begun mainstreaming inductive charging for mobile phones, a form of close-range wireless power. Mid-range charging is also becoming more accessible to the public market. Long-range wireless charging, however, is the only solution that will provide enough power over a great enough distance to beat the challenges faced by wires and batteries. It opens the possibility of blanketing an area with coverage, powering thousands of devices at once.

Long-range charging technology is still in its infant phases. The latest developments either function only in an enclosed metal room, or cover just a few devices at once. But there are plenty of actors in the space who are working on stretching the range and power of the technology, with an eye towards commercialization in the future. Major companies like Apple and Sony, for example, are already patenting power-at-distance concepts for consumer devices. Intentionally or not, these innovators may develop technology that becomes instrumental in making the smart city vision come to life.