Chances are you've heard of wireless charging, and if you have, chances are that you're disappointed by what's on the market today. A new company, Energous, thinks so too and has set out to build wireless charging with a (decent) range.
The company says that today's wireless charging isn't really wireless, because the range of inductive charging systems is so limited that it is effectively a near-field technology. This means that you still have to put your phone or device down somewhere and cannot roam (relatively) freely with it around the room. Energous' solution works very differently from competing implementations, and promises a much larger range, hopefully ending the wireless charging debacle.
Despite developing the technology and providing reference designs, Energous' primary focus is on licensing its technology. Initially, the company will be working with smaller partners, but in the future it hopes to move up to tier-one home appliance manufacturers to bring its technology into the world. Energous has already announced that it is working with a handful of unnamed vendors (Energous teased that you almost certainly have a couple of products in your home from one of these vendors), but today the company announced a collaboration with Haier's Wireless division. Haier is a Chinese company that specializes in making home appliances and consumer electronics.
Energous' wireless charging system is called "WattUp" and consists of a transmitter and receivers. The transmitter will be about the size of a standard wireless router and will have a charging radius of up to 15 feet. Rather than using magnetic induction to charge devices, it uses radio frequencies. The frequency it operates under ranges from 5.7 through 5.8 GHz, and rather than broadcasting it in all directions, the WattUp transmitter creates small 3D RF pockets with a diameter of about four inches around the devices that it is charging.
Within the first five feet it can push up to 16 W, between five and ten feet it can push 8 W, and from ten through fifteen feet it can push 4 W. The power envelopes in each of these increments are split over the number of devices it is charging, so for example, if you have four devices within five feet of the transmitter, each device will receive 4 W of power. That's not a lot of power, but it is enough to charge your device. The primary focus of the technology is sub-10 W devices, such as smartphones and wearables. In total, a single transmitter will be able to charge up to 24 devices at any given time.
On the receiving end, the device shouldn't be all that complicated. The antenna for a receiver can be worked into the PCB of a device, and a single 1 x 1 mm chip is all that's required. This means that it shouldn't be too costly to implement in devices.
One point that Energous is particularly excited about with regard to collaborating with home appliance manufacturers is the way that the technology will be placed in your home. While you might think of a WattUp transmitter much like a wireless router, the company said that it doesn't have to be. It hopes that transmitters will be built into all sorts of devices, including bezels around a TV, tops of refrigerators and more. That way, you can bring a transmitter into your home without feeling like you have yet another device cluttering up your house.
Naturally, when we were speaking to the company, we had to ask about health and safety. The representative who spoke to us said that the frequency it uses is very reflective, meaning that it doesn't actually penetrate human skin all that effectively. Energous claims that when it showed the technology to a medical embedded device company, the company told Energous that it couldn't use it – because it doesn't penetrate human skin, Energous' technology cannot charge devices inside your body, such as pacemakers. Energous also indicated that it does not have any worries about passing SAR testing procedures and that it is working on passing the FCC's Part 15 testing. The tech also shouldn't interfere with WiFi, Bluetooth or other wireless technologies.
Initially, though, it's more realistic to start seeing so-called "wearable transmitters" show up in people's homes because of a lower power envelope, as well as the fact that smartwatch charging is something that has a lot of room for improvement.
Energous hopes to deliver its first market-ready designs to its partners in Q2 2015, and you can expect the first products to arrive between Q4 2015 and early 2016, depending on how quickly the partners adopt the technology. Whether the actual products will live up to the promises remains to be seen, but Energous is certainly very confident.