2018: The Year of Wireless Power?

Jason Lomberg, North American Editor, PSD



At CES 2018, Powercast unveiled a consumer version of its RF-based wireless charging system, and considering the technology and its implications, we could finally have one of the true Holy Grails of power.

Back in August of last year, we interviewed Powercast’s COO/CTO, Dr. Charles Greene, and he elaborated on the state of wireless charging and what to expect in the near future. At that point, “wireless charging,” as a consumer application, only satisfied the strictest sense of the term – inductive chargers lacked wires, but they couldn’t account for distance.

“Inductive charging relies on coils, a transmitting coil and a receiving coil, said Dr. Green. “You have to have near-physical contact.”

The biggest limiting factor with inductive charging is distance, and that defined the leading consumer applications. That includes Powermat’s solution, previously adopted by the Power Matters Alliance and such luminaries as Duracell, General Motors, and AT&T, and the Qi wireless standard, which attracted bigwigs like Apple, LG Electronics, Motorola Mobility, Nokia, Samsung, BlackBerry, and Sony.

In a recent press release, Powermat dropped a bomb – they’d jumped ship from the PMA to its sworn enemy, the Wireless Power Consortium, throwing their weight behind Qi and unifying a certain segment of the wireless charging market.

But because inductive charging requires a short gap between the transmitting and receiving coil – 4 cm for the Qi standard – it’s still not radically different from wired charging.

A leading OEM touted the benefits of wireless power – specifically inductive power – which includes the following:

·       Reduced cost associated with maintaining mechanical connectors

That’s right – with inductive power, you can save money on charging cables. Not exactly an evolutionary advantage …

But Powercast’s brand of long-range RF power – which received FCC approval in December – has the ability to send energy in the 915MHz ISM band to devices up to 80 feet away. Energous Corporation announced similar certification for its WattUp Mid Field transmitter. The downside? Efficiency. Wired and inductive chargers naturally boast higher efficiency in the same way Ethernet cables beat Wi-Fi in the speed department.

And mobile phones will feel a tad lonely….

"We do know that people are going to want to recharge their phone," said Dr. Greene. "The primary focus of the PowerSpot today is … peripheral devices, and for the short term we see Qi as the solution to go with for charging the phones."

But the convenience of long-range, RF-based wireless power should pacify a consumer market that increasingly values expediency over efficacy. Indeed, 2018 could be the year of wireless power.