A mixed bag of leading academics and industrial research partners have taken it upon themselves to explore new ways to wirelessly ‘beam’ power to robots and other digital systems.
The funded SWIFT project is the first UK effort to develop a system that can simultaneously transfer information and power across wireless networks.
Wireless power transfer dates back to the late 19th Century, with more recent developments incorporating this technology into short-range wireless charging for mobile phones and other gadgets, a technology craze that will develop rapidly as global trends move towards shy-tech.
The new project will pay particular focus to the possibility of longer-range wireless charging, exploiting recent advances in electronically steered antennas that make it feasible to power robots safely over a significant distance using microwave beam. The wireless communication systems employ electromagnetic waves in order to transfer information.
Until recent advancements, the information transmission capacity of these signals has been the main focus of research and application, neglecting their energy content, however thanks to recent advances in recent silicon valley tech, the energy requirements of embedded systems have been significantly reduced, making electromagnetic waves a potentially useful source of energy.
SWIFT is one of the first projects to have come out of the recently established (EPSRC) RAS network – utilizing the best minds and researchers from the University of Leeds, King’s College London and Lancaster University.
Professor Ian Robertson, of the University of Leeds’ School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, said: “This is a very exciting opportunity to demonstrate that steerable microwave beams can safely transmit significant power over long distances, with advanced new techniques combining expertise in information theory, signal processing, wireless networking and microwave engineering.
The Fundamental aim of the project is to build working prototypes of wirelessly powered robots to be fabricated in the new ESPRC National facility for innovative robotic systems at Leeds.
Professor Zhiguo Ding, from Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, who will lead the project, said: “This project is the first interdisciplinary initiative to promote innovation and technology transfer between academia and industry in the UK for one of the most challenging and most important problems in future communication networks.”
Professor Robertson added: “Wireless power transfer to robots provides many exciting opportunities: in the 1960s, Raytheon demonstrated that a large model helicopter could be remotely powered by a microwave beam and elevated to 50 feet. However, there are many challenges that need to be addressed to make such an approach economical and safe.”
Professor Arumugam Nallanathan, Professor in Wireless Communications at King’s College London, said: “This research will bring significant benefits to a range of applications including environmental monitoring, tactical surveillance, intelligent transportation, wireless healthcare, future factories, and smart cities.”