News: A New Age in Wireless Charging Is Here — & It's Not Just Qi

A New Age in Wireless Charging Is Here — & It's Not Just Qi

Today could mark the beginning of a new age in wireless charging. The FCC has certified the WattUp transmitter, a revolutionary technology that could shape the future of smartphone charging. This new tech addresses many of Qi charging's limitations, and if things go right, may lead to a truly wireless future.

Qi charging was the first standard that was widely adopted by OEMs. Many Android manufacturers have included Qi on their devices for years, and the technology has slowly improved — now, even Apple's on board. However, the standard has its limits, and many companies have been working to improve on the current state of wireless charging in general. As it turns out, Energous may have won the race.

Background: Qi Charging

Qi charging is an open standard for wireless charging developed by the Wireless Power Consortium. Over 220 companies are members of the Consortium and 24 of those companies comprise the official board of management. Qi charging allows for wireless transfer of power at a distance up to 4 cm. A compatible device must be placed on top of the charging pad in order for charging to occur. Power can range from 5 W to 1 kW with mobile devices typically receiving 10–15 W of power (15 W is considered fast wireless charging).

This year, Apple adopted the standard in their new lineup of phones. With the third-largest OEM joining the consortium, any potential challenge to the standard was hindered. With the large volume of iPhones sold each month, accessoriy manufacturers couldn't afford to ignore the standard.

Image by Armando Ferreira/YouTube

However, Qi charging does have significant limitations. Since you must be in contact with the pad, you can't really use your device while it's charging. On top of that, the vast majority of Qi chargers only allow one device to be charged at a time. Because of these constraints, widespread adoption outside of mobile phones should continue to be limited. This is where Energous comes in.

Enter WattUp

Energous is the creator of WattUp, which is a new form of wireless charging that can transfer with or without contact. Using radio frequency (RF), energy is transferred from the transmitter to a receiver. The radio frequency uses the 5.850–5.875 GHz bands to transfer power, which is right outside the new 5.8 GHz Wi-Fi standard.

While WattUp and wireless charging in general may worry people when it comes to whether or not such a technology could cause cancer, there is plenty of research that suggests otherwise. Radio frequencies have been used heavily for over a century now, so there shouldn't be any worries.

A receiver converts WattUp's RF signal to DC power, which then charges the device. This transfer of power can occur from a few millimeters away (via contact), or as far as 15 feet away. And the users have control of the power.

Using either an app or a cloud-based web portal, users can control what devices receive power, how much power they receive, and when they receive power. The transmitter and receiver communicate via Bluetooth Low Energy, and this allows the transmitter to efficiently distribute power to the point where it doesn't always need to be on. One example of the advantage the software provides is prioritizing a cell phone during the morning hours to ensure it's fully charged before you leave.

Using an app, users can control what devices are charged and which ones to prioritize. Image by Energous Corporation/YouTube

The receivers are 3 mm x 3 mm, allowing them to be implemented in a multitude of products, including headphones and remote controls. The transmitters are also relatively small, allowing them to operate either as a stand-alone device or integrated into other technology such as a monitor bezel or a soundbar.

WattUp receivers are smaller than a dime. Image by Energous Corporation/YouTube

WattUp transmitters are divided into three categories: Near Field, Mid Field, and Far Field. Near Field is up to 10 cm, while Far Field operates up to 15 feet away. The transmitter which received FCC certification today is the Mid Field, which operates up to 3 feet away. Energous will attend CES 2018 to show off additional demos of the technology.

WattUp transmitters can be integrated into other technology. Image by Energous Corporation/YouTube

With the WattUp wireless technology, we may soon live in a world where you enter a room and your device just starts charging. Device in such a world wouldn't need a huge battery, as users would never be to be too far from a charging area. More importantly, no longer will users return to a uncharge device that rested incorrectly on a wireless pad.

As with all technology, adoption is key. Qi only became as successful as it is today because of all the big-name players involved in the Wireless Power Consortium. At the moment, Energous is the only company publicly involved in WattUp, so there's a long road ahead. But when the tech itself is as groundbreaking as this is, you'd have to imagine that electronics companies are already intrigued.

Are you excited about WattUp and the new age of wireless charging? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Cover image by Tech Crunch/YouTube, screenshots by Jon Knight/Gadget Hacks

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