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© Jinyong Ha, Sejong University

Our digital everyday helpers, from smartphones to room thermostats, are becoming more and more powerful. How can the resulting hunger for energy be satisfied without annoying cables? Batteries that suck themselves up inductively on a charging pad or switches that harvest enough energy for a radio signal from actuation are already a welcome reality. Now a team of researchers at Sejong University in Seoul (South Korea) has made another advance in wireless energy transmission: There, a system was developed that uses infrared light to send high amounts of energy safely over longer distances.

In the journal “Optics Express”, the team describes laboratory tests in which their system transmits 400 mW of light power over distances of up to 30 metres – enough to charge a hard-to-reach mounted sensor, for example. The next step would be to increase the power to a level sufficient to charge mobile devices such as smartphones.

The magic word behind this research success is “distributed laser charging”. For this, the researchers used an erbium infrared laser as the transmitter, which radiates at a wavelength of 1550 nanometres – a spectral range that poses no danger to humans at the low power levels. On the receiver part, a special spherical lens ensures maximum efficiency in capturing the infrared beam. “Distributed laser charging enables self-alignment without tracking processes as long as the transmitter and receiver have line-of-sight,” explains research team leader Jinyong Ha: “It also automatically switches to a safe low-power mode whenever an object or person blocks the connection.” In addition to consumer products, the engineer sees great application potential for IoT sensors, for example in industrial automation.

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