What’s Handcuffing Product Designers?

06 December 2018

Early on in the process of designing a device, such as a smart home device, a decision has to be made: will this device be corded or battery-operated.

Corded devices get their power through a power cord. There is no practical limit on how much power they can draw. As such, the device could remain on all the time. The processor can engage in compute-intensive operations. Wi-Fi is freely available and always on, and so forth. The downside? corded devices are corded. They are tethered to a power outlet. They cannot be easily moved and the cord constrains placement and installation. Thinking about hanging a corded device up high on a wall? Get ready to route that ugly power cord to an outlet. Want to embed a speaker in the ceiling? Get ready to contact an electrician.

Battery operated devices provide much more freedom. You can take them with you. You can install them pretty much anywhere you want. The downside? They have limited functionality. Functionality often requires more power and battery-powered devices have to be very judicious in their power usage. Product managers justifiably find it unreasonable to ask customers to replace batteries every day or every couple of weeks. That leads to some great features being left out of the device.

For instance, a corded security camera can provide streaming video and cloud storage. A battery-operated one, in contrast, limits frame rate, resolution and storage duration to a bare minimum. Running a popular battery-operated indoor video camera in streaming mode can deplete its battery in just a few hours.

Power consumption is measured in Watts. Battery-operated devices can consume just a few milliwatts on average without draining the battery. This requirement to consume 1, 2 or maybe just 3 mW handcuffs product designers.

We feel your pain.

With wireless power, you can remove these handcuffs. Instead of limiting yourself to 2 mW or so for devices that are not corded, long-range wireless power can deliver 100x or even 1000x the power.

Given the average power consumption that your device needs, what are the options?

Wireless power adds options that did not exist before. Now, designers and product managers can realize your dreams. They can create wire-free devices that have similar features and functionality to corded, shackled devices.

Freedom feels great. We think this capability will usher in a new generation of smart home devices.

You’re welcome, product designers.

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