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Drayson Technologies raises £8M for RF energy harvesting tech aimed at IoT devices and wearables

TechCrunch TechCrunch 11/05/2016 Steve O'Hear

There’s no such thing as a free lunch or free energy, right? Not necessarily. Drayson Technologies, the London startup founded by Lord Paul Drayson, a very successful serial entrepreneur and former U.K. government science minister, is commercialising technology that harvests energy from radio frequency (RF) signals to potentially power a range of low-consumption devices.

These include products in the IoT space, including the company’s own proof-of-concept air pollution sensor, and even wearables that don’t require too much power.

To further develop the “Freevolt” tech and to help bring more applications to market, through licensing as well as building new products in-house, Drayson Technologies has raised £8 million in Series B funding. The round was led by existing investors Lansdowne Partners, and Woodford Investment Management, with participation from new unnamed investors and staff of the U.K. company.

In a call, Drayson acknowledged that the concept and promise of harvesting RF for energy use has been kicking around since the 1960s and even before that, but said that the Freevolt technology, which itself owes much of its development to research spun out of London’s Imperial College, is a major improvement on the efficiency of harvesting errant or otherwise wasted energy contained in RF waves, including that transmitted by WiFi, cellular and digital broadcasts.

Specifically this relates to the Freevolt harvester’s multi-band antenna and rectifier, which Drayson Technologies says is capable of absorbing energy from multiple RF bands at almost any orientation. However, there are two other elements that make the technology more viable today than at any other time previously.

These are the fact that there are exponentially more RF signals being broadcast, particularly in urban areas, and in turn more use-cases for devices that require low amounts of power but where charging or swapping out batteries is inconvenient. Here Drayson talks up the IoT space as a major candidate, such as beacons, sensors and low-powered wearables, and notes that unlike solar, devices don’t need to be in ‘line of sight’ with the energy source but can be buried or otherwise hidden.

He also makes another compelling argument and one that reflects his own engineering background and interest in environmental technology, including the work he’s previously done on electric cars and wireless charging. Should the industry buy in to the Freevolt tech (or something similar), it could lead to more energy efficient devices being designed in the first place.

That’s because, rather than engineers saying, ‘how can I make room for a bigger battery,’ or expecting users to charge their devices more often, the promise of ‘free’ energy might make them design new types of low-powered devices from the get-go. This could either be through increasing power efficiency or by making different design decisions or trade offs.

On that note, a smart watch powered by Freevolt that wouldn’t require charging daily isn’t out of the question, says Drayson. Maybe the best things in life really are free.

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