How Japan wants to charge wirelessly through the air

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Smart contact lenses, smart chairs and smartphones that never run out of power – wireless power transmission in buildings and outdoors is becoming a reality in Japan. The start-up Aeterlink launched its technology in November 2021, which can transmit electricity up to 20 meters using microwaves.

An office was set up for the demonstration of a construction company provided with transmitters and the special receivers. Smart office chairs will then be supplied with electricity via the 920 MHz band from transmitters on the ceiling. The chairs can then automatically report to the building management system whether they are occupied so that the air conditioning can then be controlled more precisely.

This is just one example of a new market the government is trying to create by releasing frequencies for wireless power transmission. So far, this technology can only be used to a limited extent, as the government was concerned about interference with transmission signals. Now the authorities want to allow wireless power transmission first in buildings and then outdoors from 2024. First, three frequency bands will be released: 920 MHz for human environments, 2.4 and 5.7 GHz for unmanned environments.

Aeterlink – Wireless Powering demonstration with Aeterlink’s “Air Plug”

The fact that Aeterlink is one of the pioneers is due to the background of the founder Yuji Tanabe. At Stanford University in America, he helped develop wireless charging for medical implants such as pacemakers. In his home country he now wants to open up the much larger market for networked wearables, things and machines.

The performance of the system is only a few milliwatts, because so far only the 920 MHz frequency band has been approved for transmission in environments with people. But for certain sensors on devices and machines that otherwise can hardly be supplied with power, this is sufficient, says Aeterlink.

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

As an example, the company cites the power supply for sensors in robotic hands, which are difficult to wire. Marketing of wireless power supplies to factories is slated to begin in the coming year. But Tanabe also hopes in the longer term for smart contact lenses that can project images onto the retina and implanted interfaces between the brain and machines.

Japan has always tried everything possible with electronics – and often the impossible. Every Thursday our author Martin Kölling reports here on the latest trends from Tokyo.

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But in Japan not only start-ups are concerned with the technology, but also the mobile network provider Softbank, whose main shareholder is the investment group of the same name. The company is currently developing the technology with Kyoto University, the Kanazawa Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, which will then to be housed in the transmitters for 5G mobile networks.

The electric charge is sent in the 28 gigahertz high frequency band. At first it will only be able to transmit one milliwatt over ten meters. But over time, Softbank wants to increase the range to 100 meters. Softbank hopes to roll out the technology by 2025. But it is not yet clear which wearables can be charged in this way.


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