Wirelessly Powering a Swarm of Robots

Posted on Feb 4, 2014

Wireless power transfer is nothing new; it has been discussed since Tesla`s patent in 1900 entitled `Apparatus for Transmission of Electrical Energy` (USPTO #649, 621). However, as the technology matures, it will be interesting to see what myriad applications arise. For example, Intel`s system is capable of transmitting up to 60 Watts (the demo of lighting an incandescent bulb)

Wirelessly Powering a Swarm of Robots
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around 75% efficiency. They hope to one day use the system to remotely charge laptops. Meanwhile for robotics, wireless power has the capability to transform research and applications involving swarms of small (mini/micro) robots. When dealing with robot swarms numbering in the hundreds or even just a dozen, tethering is impractical and changing batteries is cumbersome. By way of an example, consider the battery-powered robot swarm by Caprari from EPFL in Switzerland, where they have ~100 robots operating simultaneously. Hooking up 100 robots for battery charging does not sound like such a fun prospect - more importantly, it is a significant research impediment. Instead, it is possible to use inductively-coupled wireless power, in a manner similar to Low-Frequency (125kHz) RFID, to power the swarm or just to perform simultaneous, contact-less battery recharging. This is the goal of the work presented by Deyle (myself) and Reynolds in Surface based wireless power transmission and bidirectional communication for autonomous robot swarms. What`s great about this work is that the fundamental design is straight-forward, and can be prototyped using discrete components and basic microcontrollers, making the technology available to researchers and hobbyists alike. The surface is outfitted with a transmit coil. This coil operates in resonance to increase the circulating current and thus increase the magnetic flux - providing...

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