CES 2021 Report: The future of IoT is maintenance-free
At CES 2021, NGK Insulators, Ltd. (NGK) exhibited maintenance-free solutions for IoT devices utilizing its flagship EnerCera® battery series together with various wireless power transfer (WPT) and energy harvesting technologies to break the bottleneck of power sources.
EnerCera battery is a series of Li-ion rechargeable battery products that are defined by its crystal oriented ceramic positive electrode plate, which NGK developed in-house. As a semi-solid state battery, it realizes high heat-resistance, high capacity and high power. EnerCera has two types: “EnerCera Coin”, a coin type cell for mounting on a circuit board, and “EnerCera Pouch”, an ultra-thin and bendable cell for embedding in a card. Ever since being awarded CES Innovation Awards in the Smart Energy Category at CES 2019, NGK has expanded the EnerCera’s product lineup to respond to industry demands.
NGK’s Chip-type Ceramic Rechargeable Battery "EnerCera" Series
Numerous applications featuring EnerCera’s technology are currently in development. Below is a small selection of examples that showcase how EnerCera can provide solutions everywhere.
Real-time location system (RTLS) and smart tags featuring an ultra-thin temperature sensor
RTLS is used to automatically identify and track the location of objects and/or people in real time. Wireless IC tags are attached to objects and/or worn by people. Through wireless communication, it is possible to check the battery’s capacity and location. This traceability is one of the major expectations for the lineup. Based on testing using an IC tag prototype featuring the newest EnerCera battery, potential applications could lead to improvements in products’ assembly line tracking and inventory monitoring, as well as the lookup of medical equipment in medical facilities. Naturally, the battery supports Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) and/or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology.
In addition, EnerCera also supports 500mA, meaning that the development of products controlled by cellular communication is another potential area where EnerCera can be utilized effectively. Finally, it can be utilized in a wide range of temperatures, from -40 degree Celsius to 105 degree Celsius for EnerCera coin type batteries.
At Yamagata University, development of a Logistics IC Tag with a thin temperature sensor that can be attached to curved objects using the ultra-thin and bendable EnerCera Pouch is in progress. Attaching this tag to wine bottles, for instance, allows for constant temperature monitoring during the shipping process, ensuring that the product is delivered to distributors and consumers at the appropriate temperature.
Smart home devices – wireless charging through microwaves and ultrasound
The rechargeable EnerCera can help improve product design, reduce the need for battery replacement and respond to the growing demand for touchless smart home devices, increasing their potential and usability.
EnerCera battery is ultra-thin, realizes high power and boasts a long lifetime. Thus, it can realize efficient wireless power storage through spatial WPT, operating sensors and wireless communication to be able to continue to transmit data for a significant timespan. This will contribute to making maintenance-free IoT devices possible.
For instance, EnerCera’s ultra-thin feature is expected to contribute to create more compact and stylish devices supporting WPT allowing for greater freedom in interior product design. Furthermore, by integrating the high power generated by EnerCera into voice recognition and/or proximity sensors, there is a possibility to realize maintenance-free smart home appliances, including smart faucets and toilets featuring touchless on/off controls.
Energy harvesting utilizing indoor lighting and vibration power
In the field of energy harvesting, EnerCera Coin can be utilized as a battery, while EnerCera Pouch can perform similar to a capacitor. Leveraging EnerCera’s strengths, Renesas Corporation is developing a maintenance-free agriculture monitoring system based on power generation from utilizing the temperature differences between the land’s surface and ground.
NGK showcased its collaboration with RICOH Company, Ltd., which features several devices utilizing EnerCera in energy harvesting applications that are currently in development. EnerCera is expected to contribute to developing smaller devices that are based on energy harvesting such as solar cells, making large batteries unnecessary and thus realizing maintenance-free power supply solutions.
Wearables – waterproof and fall detection sensors that can be used in applications such as smart shoes
Finding a wireless communication solution for the insoles of running shoes has been deemed difficult due to ultra-thinness being a requirement to guarantee comfort. At only 0.45 mm thick and featuring a bendable property, EnerCera has a chance to break this bottleneck. By combining a pressure sensor, wireless communications and EnerCera Pouch, it would become possible to collect running data and then analyze and visualize your run on a computer or smartphone. Furthermore, by installing a wireless charger in the shoe box, charging the smart shoe would become maintenance-free. Additionally, EnerCera Coin supports injection molding in resin, making the development of a fully waterproof wearable sensor possible.
At CES 2021, NGK showcased a sensor with a fall detection function currently being developed together with Kyoto University and Panasonic Corporation. It is designed to protect patients in elder care homes and similar facilities. This sensor combines WPT together with EnerCera, realizing a small sized and stable maintenance-free vital sensor.