The signs point to far field wireless power on the horizon
Keeping one eye on your battery level and the other open for a charging port is a drain on us all. The ideal is all devices being able to wirelessly charge at any time over any distance. How far away are we? Small steps and giant leaps are being taken every day.
Short range and long-range wireless both have their place. There’s no need for a broad transmission range if we’re sitting at the charging device we’re using. The real demand is for wireless that can provide on-the-go, over the air power across a significant distance.
Wireless charging operates via radio frequency waves and within two parameters: near field and far field. Wireless device charging received the go ahead from the Federal Communications Commission at the close of 2017, and there have been impressive developments since then. It was mid-range clearance (meaning up to three feet) but this hasn’t stopped the field’s innovators from looking even farther forward.
Wireless charging today
Qi is an industry standard, currently at version 1.2.4 and used in thousands of products by many major companies including Apple. Transmitters of 12 types (among them single, array and moving coil) deliver up to 15 watts into Qi-compatible devices and can be powered by USB charger. Qi can be found at airports, hotels, restaurants, and public venues.
Every Qi enabled device is compatible with every Qi charging transmitter regardless of their respective manufacturers. This is a big reason for its mainstream adoption. Qi may be mainstream, but it still suffers from transmission limitation. Powering works best if devices remain in close contact with charging pads with induction coils must be precisely aligned (this is less of a necessity with a multi-coil system).
Resonant charging is possible but only at 45mm. Qi refers to this distance, perhaps over-generously, as “spatial freedom.” Consumers and businesses want more. To this end, there are two companies leaving the charging pad behind and increasing transmission ranges.
Current innovators in the field: Energous
Energous is the company that received the FCC’s blessing and went on to impress audiences in 2018 with the WattUp wireless model. Their revolutionary tech is intended to operate on three tiers: Near, mid, and far field. All three transmission types are designed to be sent and received by standalone or embedded methods. To summarize:
- Near field – The lowest transmission range (millimeters in this case) equates to least in cost and size. Intended for smaller electronics, Near Field will come packaged with the hardware as the successor of the standard power adaptor and USB cable. It will be impressively versatile in deployment by being integrated with furniture as well as tech devices like laptops and gaming consoles.
- Mid field – This increases the transmission range to 2-3 feet. It’s no great distance, but it’s still a powerful step; one capable of charging multiple devices simultaneously. Authorized users will be able to prioritize which of their devices are at the front of the line for charging.
- Far field – The most far-reaching iteration can be connected directly to a device or attached to walls or ceilings. The projection of 15 feet can be expanded by linking multiple far-field transmitters together to cover larger areas. Like the mid field, users can designate the priority chain for devices being charged.
It’s the transmission framework of WattUp that really edges the field forward. It delivers small amounts of power by gathering micro energy beams from the transmitter. Radiofrequency waves are then adjusted in content and shape before being sent to the receiver and converted into DC current.
WattUp’s applications cover more than the expected computer hardware/software and mobile electronics. It can power security cameras, smoke alarms, lighting, electric toothbrushes, and hearing aids. A major selling point when this one hits the market is being manufacturer-agnostic, meaning devices can be charged from any transmitter regardless of the manufacturer of both items.
Ossia and the Cota Power Receiver
This future-facing company won the 2018 North American Wireless Power Charging Technology Innovation Award. Devices with the Cota Power Receiver (a tiny silicon chip) can communicate with a Cota Transmitter which supplies in-motion wireless power across multiple paths.
Devices can receive power simultaneously as in the Energous WattUp model; power which bounces from walls, ceilings, and other objects on its way to the device. For the tech-phobic among us, Ossia assure users that people and pets will not be used as rebound relays. The transmitter has thousands of antennae which helps it select an optimum transmission path that’s safe by FCC standards.
They currently have the edge on their competitors as their transmission range is 30 feet with one transmitter and 50 feet with two, with everything being user-controlled via the Cota Cloud. Ossia is also ambitious in projecting wireless power beyond traditional electronics. The company has its sights set on powering automobiles, medical devices, and industrial equipment.
Another notable company is Wi-Charge. They’re also award winners utilizing infrared to enable full-room wireless power coverage.
The future – Physics and The Airfuel Alliance
Universities in Texas and New York have been at work on some of the issues hindering long-range wireless. Their work is predictably advanced. The layman can understand it as effectively interfering with the standard transmission signal, allowing for an adaptable phase and amplitude that compensates for environmental changes. In even fewer words, it could mean maximum power all the time.
The Airfuel Alliance is working toward making the entire world wireless by supporting a safe and reliable public infrastructure. The advance of long-range wireless certainly won’t be stopped by a lack of imagination. It’s the FCC requirements dictating safety and legality which perhaps pose the biggest possibility of delays.
It may not happen soon, but long-range wireless is visible on the tech horizon.
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