All of the radio waves and signals bouncing around you can be boiled down to a single thing: energy. Sure, they may carry Wi-Fi or sound, they may connect our cell phones or bring us the latest Harry Styles tunes, but they’re all essentially energy. And as such, they should be able to provide not just entertainment but electricity, right?
That’s the promise of Ossia and other wireless technology companies, and unfortunately, it’s always been more promise than practice. Tom’s Hardware first introduced you to Cota wireless power in 2015, and the technology has yet to explode. But at CES 2023, Ossia is doing all it can to make it easy to develop actual products that deliver on that promise, with the new Cota 5.8-GHz Real Wireless Power developer kit.
At the show, Tom’s Hardware sat down with Hatam Zeine, the inventor of the technology, to discuss when and where we’ll see the technology. Spoiler: It’ll probably show up in businesses before you can get one for yourself. But later this year or maybe early next year, we’ll see at least some devices that use the technology.
Zeine described to us double-A shaped devices that can replace batteries in, say, your smoke detector or remote control and use the company’s wireless power. Or better yet, a Qi charger that is itself wirelessly charged, so you can simply drop it on the bedside table and charge your phone. “This is coming soon,” we asked?
“That’s coming! This is coming now!” Zeine said, though he quickly noted that he was unable to speak for which 3rd party would be supplying it. Or those charging pads. But they’re coming! And at Mobile World Congress, the company will be taking pre-orders for a new universal base that can be retrofitted into other devices and the new Archos camera that supports the tech.(At last, some people might say!)
The new developer kit will let curious manufacturers try out wireless power for themselves, to see how Ossia’s tech can fit into their devices. And with the array of wireless cameras, doorbells, smart lightbulbs, and other such gadgets growing by the day, the potential for wireless power to keep them all fully charged, all the time is immense.
To be clear the technology works. Ossia’s breakthrough relies upon a principle in physics known as retrodirectivity. Using this technology, a tiny chip embedded in a device sends a signal to a base station, a flat, thin panel that resembles a notepad on a stand. It uses either a 2.4-GHz signal or a 5.8-GHz frequency to transmit energy wirelessly back to the receiver chips, which can be built into anything: smartphone cases, laptops, lamps, you name it. There’s no line of sight required, and zero interference with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals, the company promises.
“Our technology is basically utilizing a large array of antennas that can focus their energy into a specific device in the environment,” Zeine explained.
But getting manufacturers to integrate the receiver chips into their devices has been the real hurdle for Ossia. Not to mention safety certification from the FCC. In 2020, CEO Mario Obeidat pointed Tom’s Hardware to FCC certification that the Cota transmitter and receiver acquired in June for working at 2.4 GHz at a distance of up 1m. The Cota was certified for almost 1W, Obeidat said, but the transmitter could go up to 2-3W. In March, the FCC lifted that distance limit: Beam your signals as far as you’d like, the agency essentially said. It’s safe. But 5.8 GHz signals, which can charge much more rapidly albeit over shorter distances, remain an elusive target.
5.8 GHz isn’t necessary for Ossia, Zeine told Tom’s Hardware. But it means the company won’t have to dance around the Wi-Fi signals that clutter the 2.4 GHz bandwidth, opening up possibilities and bringing higher power charging. Wireless power may just be the future after all.