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Beam Us Up: Wireless Power Energizes Accessories, Lunar Rover Robots

May 16, 2023

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We covered a promising technology from a young Brooklyn, NY company called Yank Technologies that was unveiled at CES in 2020, and the concept has proved so compelling it can't be bound by the forces of Earth's gravity. Indeed this wireless power-transmission concept might soon be bound for the moon aboard the NASA Artemis Mission.

In our initial coverage of Yank Tech's Wireless Power contactless charging solution, we pointed out that it's somewhat related to the charging that happens on a Qi-protocol wireless charging mat or on an inductive EV charging plate, in that they all involve resonant inductive charging, but in this case, it's designed to send power over distances of up to 10 inches or so—something that can only be made easier by the moon's comparative lack of atmosphere.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that on the moon, most everything's powered by electricity, and aside from any energy stored in batteries or fuel cells and their tanks on the way up, things are largely solar powered once they get there. We've covered NASA's outreach to the auto industry to help devise a new lunar rover along with some reporting on projects by GM/Lockhead Martin and Toyota, (plus an Audi concept for an unmanned rover). Well, it turns out these rovers will likely carry and deploy various robots designed to carry out tasks like sample collection. Rather than fit them with giant batteries with docking ports for recharging, NASA wants to be able to power or recharge them remotely. The challenges facing Yank in this application will mostly revolve around the harsh operating conditions, which include wild extremes of temperature and exposure to radiation. This initial contract is with NASA's Small Business Innovation Research department. If all goes well, a contract for the Artemis Mission will be the next step.

Wireless Power promises to recharge your phone while it's in a pocket or maybe on a windshield or dash-vent mount and still get charged. It can charge different devices with differing power requirements at the same time. And as a bonus, charging devices tend not to heat up as much using Wireless Power, and because the frequency is in the low megahertz spectrum, it's extremely safe for humans, pacemakers, etc. That's all nice, but automakers and suppliers are far more interested in Wireless Power's ability to slash the cost, complexity, and mass of wiring harnesses by, for example, powering the mirror and window-lift motors directly, without sending costly copper into the doors. The technology also promises to solve thorny problems like how to power a rear captain's chair that swivels 180 degrees and moves on a very long track.

Yank Technologies has made significant improvements since our first meeting, maturing the technology to best suit automotive applications while broadening its product applications and capabilities. The company now has multiple OEM and Tier 1 auto customers signed on for projects powering passenger devices and complete vehicle interior sub-systems, from seats, removable doors, and ambient lighting.

The first commercial production project is slated a 2027 car with others scheduled in the years to follow. And because of the long automotive lead time, the company has also expanded into product categories like power tools, powering handheld tools and industrial robotics, to help reduce downtime and hence operational costs. But the lunar rover project is undeniably the coolest.