Originally posted by Michael Luciano, Associate Editor on Wireless Design & Development
When on patrol or executing missions, it isn’t uncommon for US military personnel to carry 110-150 lbs of equipment at one time, with roughly 20 of those pounds being batteries. This is mainly due to the variety of different devices these soldiers have that need power sources like night vision goggles, radios, sensors, GPS devices, headsets, flashlights, and laser sights (just to mention a few). One of the ways hostile forces track mobile US troops is by finding disposed batteries, which inadvertently serve as a sort of “breadcrumb trail.” Aside from the extra weight batteries impose, it’s not ideal for soldiers to leave signs of their whereabouts, let alone litter and risk further harm to the environment.
These are some of the findings from research done by the Seattle-based wireless technology development power company Ossia. While searching for unique and interesting marketing opportunities, Ossia felt their Cota platform could provide a solution for soldiers by lightening the weight of their gear, while assuring their electronic gadgets and devices remain charged. Ossia doesn’t make products themselves, but licenses their technologies to companies who can embed the Cota platform in their own products.
“Cota has three primary components—a transmitter, receiver, and cloud-based software that manages the relationship between the transmitter and receiver. The transmitter acts much like a WiFi hotspot in that Cota is RF-based, and transmits radio frequencies that go to receivers,” says Ossia Chief Revenue Officer Doug Stovall when I spoke with him last month. “The transmitter sort of listens for the receiver to say ‘Hello I’m here,’ and does this in the form of sending out a beacon. That beacon finds the transmitter and when it does this, directs wireless power using emission radio waves from direct path back to the receiver.”
Cota sends radio waves similar to how they’re deployed in WiFi, to a mobile device with the aim of charging these electronics at a distance. Stovall explained how in a soldier’s case, they can be meters away from a transmitter or not in the line of sight, meaning the receiver (if a soldier is carrying it and they’re around a building corner or someone is standing between) will still find a path for moving its wireless power to the said devices.
“With Cota, you can move, jump, run, and hide, and will always receive a path to get wireless power,” says Stovall. “Most of these devices being charged by the platform would have a battery in them that would be rechargeable or a smaller-sized one.”
The platform currently supports 2.4 GHz, with 5.8 GHz being released later in 2018. Despite the different waves across the RF spectrum having their pros and cons, Ossia envisions Cota existing across multiple frequencies. The platform has a standard that defines implementation processes and procedures customers must follow to deploy this technology, with one key component being transmitter/receiver security, which works by authenticating devices against receivers.
“Think of it like a handshake or logging into the WiFi system at your house. Each receiver has a unique ID that enables access,” says Stovall. “The device roams on because you have a username and password and are allowed onto your residence’s WiFi, whereas if I went into your house, I couldn’t utilize that same network.”
Setting up and implementing the Cota platform ultimately lies on the customer. When someone signs a licensing agreement with Ossia, they deliver a reference design kit to the customer that includes transmitter and receiver reference designs, which detail how the technology works and sets up. Ossia can also send more basic reference designs and even deliver chips, all of which can be utilized by the customer to build and implement into their own products.
“Through that process, the person implementing the platform makes many different decisions like software, allowing you to determine which device you will charge. So in this case, one of the conditions the customer might set up or configure is to only charge devices when they’re less than 75 percent charged, whereas anything above that figure doesn’t get a charge, enabling the technology to prioritize needier devices,” explains Stovall, when asked to break down how the Cota platform is set up and implemented.
Stovall highlighted the numerous benefits the Cota platform could have for military personnel like decreased pack weight as well as the technology’s reliability, safety, and security. The receivers carried by soldiers would weigh virtually nothing, and have no user intervention or maintenance required, so they won’t be constantly changing batteries. From a safety perspective, since the soldier isn’t constantly worrying about changing batteries, they can use that time to focus on more important priorities like their current mission or immediate surroundings.
“We envision a world where you never have to think about charging a device, which is what we want soldiers to experience,” says Stovall when asked about Ossia’s ultimate goals behind the development and implementation of this technology. “Just like how you go into a home and WiFi just works. You don’t think about why your laptop has connectivity—it just does. If you think about your office, local coffee shop, or any place you go with WiFi, that’s the exact paradigm we envision for Cota. If you think about this in relation to the military, you think of charging hotspots in places a soldier would go, like troop transports, tents, command centers—all these places would keep all their devices topped off with power.”
Water is still an issue for RF technology in general, of which Cota is no exception. While these scenarios haven’t yet been tested, Stovall said it was likely they would run into some issues with the platform’s transmitters in downpours outside. Other forms of precipitation and conditions like snow or leaves piling on top of a transmitter could also cause problems. Even in conditions like rain, the devices would still work, and some indoor commercial implementations Ossia is overseeing are removing batteries from devices (being charged by Cota) completely. The devices are being charged without them so if a transmitter was blocked in that situation, devices would stop working.