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The final wire: wireless charging in a cable-filled world

Tech and Innovation

Posted on April 1, 2015

3 min read

My desk is a snakes-nest of cables. However, they have been gradually reducing – replaced each time by another wireless link. My phone connects to Telstra’s 4G network. My iPad connects to the office Wi-Fi. Still, the wire that is needed to provide power to these devices hasn’t been replaced. Although, perhaps not for long.

Famed inventor Nikola Tesla demonstrated sending power without wires back in the late 19th century. The idea is not a new one, but the need has never been greater. I doubt Tesla carried as many portable electronic devices around as the average Australian does these days.

So it’s good to see that wireless charging is now appearing, and with it comes a better user experience. A wireless charging plate is embedded in a table or desk, and when a smartphone is positioned on top, the battery will begin charging. It’s so simple, and there are no wires to be seen.

There are two different international standards for wireless charging – Powermat and Qi (pronounced “chee”). It’s a bit like VHS vs Betamax, or Bluray vs HD-DVD. These standards both provide a similar experience for customers, but only as long as you have the compatible devices.

In the United States, the two largest mobile carriers have selected different standards. Verizon is in the Qi camp, and AT&T is in the Powermat camp. Similarly, furniture is divided by standards: Starbucks has installed only Powermat technology in the tables in their cafes. Meanwhile, IKEA has select Qi technology for their range of tables and lamps.

To complicate matters further, Apple has recently announced a product that supports wireless charging – the Apple Watch – and it uses a technology of their own. Perhaps it will be possible to combine it with one or both of the other standards, but we’ll need to wait and see.

Wireless charging is going to come into its own with wearable devices. I don’t find it too difficult to plug-in just my smartphone at the end of the day, but when I also have to recharge my tablet, a smartwatch, wireless headset, and maybe smart glasses as well, it is a different situation. It would be significantly easier to simply place these devices on a charging plate embedded within my bedside table than having to plug in multiple cables (or even find enough power points for all the chargers).

A company that promises to make wireless charging even easier, by removing the need for the charging plate, is Wi-Charge. While I haven’t had the chance to see their technology first-hand, if it turns out to be effective, it could disrupt both Powermat and Qi. The idea is that an infrared transmitter in the ceiling would generate a targeted beam of infrared light for all devices within line-of-sight, and this beam would provide energy to enable devices to recharge.

It’s good to see this technology area now evolving so rapidly. It’s too late for Tesla, but I can’t wait for the cables to be gone.

Tags: wireless,