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OPPO declares war on batteries, plans a battery-free future

Imagine a world where you didn't have to charge your smartwatch and earbuds
By Roland Udvarlaki January 20, 2022, 10:30 am
wireless charging battery Source: Unsplash, Limor Zellermayer

OPPO published a whitepaper detailing its plans to create a new system that wouldn’t rely on batteries, instead, it would draw power and harvest energy from radio waves emitted by cell towers, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other sources. OPPO’s goal is to lower the maintenance of IoT (Internet of Things) devices and reduce environmental waste.

OPPO shared a whitepaper that shares how it can go battery-free by using a “zero-power communication” technology system that can power small IoT devices. The paper describes the harvesting of RF (Radio Frequency) to power devices that don’t require too much energy to function. OPPO expects zero-power communication to be the next big thing in the next generation of new low-powered IoT devices.

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“In recent years, 3GPP have standardized series of technologies on IoT (Internet of Things), which achieves the design targets of low cost, low power consumption, massive connection and deep coverage. These IoT technologies can well meet the requirements of diverse scenarios. However, there are still many other scenarios that require the terminal to have ultra-low power consumption or even zero power consumption, ultra-low cost, very small size etc. With techniques such as RF power harvesting, backscattering and low power computing, zero power communication can well meet these new requirements. Due to its excellent characteristics, zero-power communication is expected to become one important candidate of next generation technology on Internet of Things.”

The paper also describes how such a technology could work in practice. By harvesting radio frequencies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellphone signals, the technology could technically provide infinite power to devices. As a result of the new powering mechanism, these devices could become smaller, offer better durability, and even cost less – since there could be fewer components needed to assemble and need to make these gadgets work. This technology could essentially provide battery-less devices with “ultra-low power consumption.”

“Zero-power communication technology utilizes key techniques such as RF energy harvesting, backscattering communication and low-power computing. Zero-power communication obtains energy by harvesting radio waves in the space to drive the terminal. Therefore, the terminal can be battery-less without using conventional batteries, so it can effectively reduce the size and cost of the terminal. Furthermore, backscattering communication and low-power computing technologies make the terminal achieve an extremely simplified RF and baseband circuit structure, which can greatly reduce the terminal cost, terminal size and circuit energy consumption. Therefore, zero-power communication is expected to achieve battery-less terminals to meet the communication needs of the Internet of things with ultra-low power consumption, very small size and ultra-low cost.

Due to its good characteristic of battery-less, such kind of terminal is named zero-power terminal and the corresponding communication procedure is called zero-power communication.“

It’s worth mentioning that drawing power from the air isn’t a new concept, and technology has been in development and in research for several years. Samsung also has a TV remote that harvests energy from 2.4GHz Wi-Fi signals, and both Motorola and Xiaomi demonstrated similar technologies in the past (via Android Authority). The new OPPO concept could turn TV remotes, smartwatches, smart GPS trackers (such as AirTags) wireless earbuds, and many more modern wearables and low-powered devices into devices that could potentially go battery-free, and harvest energy from frequencies that are around us.

It remains to be seen what’ll happen in the next decade or so, but this technology will likely see major developments from large technology companies to provide battery-less devices that can communicate more effectively, provide ultra-low power consumption and reduce costs.

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