Monday, January 26, 2015

Wireless power

Wireless power has been a dream since the days of Nicola Tesla and it looks like it’s finally making some interesting progress.

I’m sure you’ve seen the devices that allow you to put a smartphone on a “charging surface” to charge it "wirelessly". This is handy, but it’s really not what we mean when we say wireless power.

A company called Energous demoed a new system called WattUp at CES this year that purports to be able to deliver power to devices anywhere in a room (up to 15 feet away.) It uses Bluetooth and focused radio frequency beams (using the same frequencies as WiFi) that the powered devices convert to power using an embedded chip. The “transmitter” triangulates the locations of devices using Bluetooth and uses beam-forming antenna technology to send the energy to them.

The transmitters could be built into a number of different devices (appliances, routers, etc.) They’re currently about 70% efficient at charging (typical wireless charging pads are about 90% efficient.)

Devices can be charged on the fly while users are using them walking around the room – using technology similar to how WiFi routers hand off signals when you move between access points in the office.

Currently the smartphones that are being charged need special power-receiver cases, but the technology can be embedded in the phones as well – if the smartphone manufacturers get on board.

If the distance could be increased, this might be useful for powering devices in out of the way or difficult to reach locations in a plant. It could also be used for wireless toys, tablets, speakers and other devices besides phones. 

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