Tech Trends

Over-the-Air Power: The Next Step in Wireless Charging

My family all got together at my sister’s country home for the holidays.  On Christmas morning, three generations gathered around a Christmas tree to open presents.  There was excitement, joy, laughter, all the things you want on Christmas morning.

After we thought we opened all the gifts, we stumbled over a big bag labeled “Open Last”.  We opened the bag and to our surprise, there were personalized nerf guns for every member of the family.  Fully loaded.  My kids were ecstatic and they scrambled through the bag to find their guns. Even the grandparents received a gun.  Everyone wanted in on the action, so we took it outside so that we could really amp up the competition.

My sister’s house has an enormous backyard with fruit trees of varying sizes that help offer some protection in a nerf warzone.  As I watched my parents and my children race outside with their guns , I grabbed my phone to document the event.  I had just got the new Samsung Galaxy S8, upgraded from my Galaxy S3.  My camera is amazing and I now have tons of storage space, so I thought I was ready to get this all in.

But then it happened.  Everyone’s worst nightmare.

I stayed up so late the night before wrapping presents and polishing off the milk and cookies that I forgot to plug my phone in.  When I woke up Christmas morning I used what little juice was left to video and snap pictures of the gift exchange.  Now, at what was sure to be the highlight of the morning, I had no battery life to capture it!

Don’t you hate when this happens?  The bride is about to throw the bouquet, dad is about to carve the turkey, your baby’s dance solo is about to begin, and you have no battery life left.  In this day and age with all the developments in technology you would think there is some way to keep this from happening.

Perhaps you’re already aware of a few charging solutions that offer some kind of consolation to this situation.  Have you heard the term “wireless charging”?  The first time I heard of “wireless charging” in 2008 my first thought was, “Cool, absolutely NO wires will be needed”. I pictured walking around the house while never needed to worry about my battery because it would be “wirelessly charging”. When I went in to buy my first wireless charging smartphone my dreams where shattered when I found out that you still needed to plug in to a power supply.

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A wireless, AKA portable charger or power bank, works by first charging the portable charger.  Then with the portable charger unplugged, you can plug in the device you need to charge, without the need of a power outlet.  A lot of people like that they can be charging their phones in their pockets, or in their purses.  Then when the portable charger runs out of power, you plug it back into an outlet to charge it back up, and then again use it to remotely charge other devices at will. I eventually got over the grief because this was still a good option, but I kept up hope that my vision for true wireless charging would someday become a reality.

There are 2 problems with portable chargers.  The first is that they still need to be charged, just like your phone.  The second problem with portable chargers is it still requires you to be tethered.  Sure it gives you some freedom to walk around carrying the devices as opposed to camping next to the wall outlet until your device has enough juice.  But you’re still tethered.  Imagine trying to Facebook Live your parent’s 50th Anniversary toast holding not just your camera, but also the battery still enough to get a clear picture.  Or worse, trying to record from the wall outlet located 50 feet away, and only 12 inches from the ground. It’s not ideal.

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At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a company called Powercast made my dream take one step closer to reality with their announcement of over-the-air wireless charging. Another company, Energous, has already received approval from the Federal Communications Commissions for its WattUp Mid Field transmitter which sends RF-based power to devices at a distance.

This has become one of the biggest tech trend announcements of CES 2018. Before we delve into the possibilities of over-the-air charging, let’s first look at what wireless charging currently means.

Wireless charging or cordless charging is a method that uses electromagnetic induction to transfer energy between two objects. This form of charging allows a device to be placed onto a charging station/dock without a plug being inserted into the device, thus freeing it of wires. You might be familiar with these if you frequent coffee shops like Starbucks, who have them seemingly built-in to some of their tables.

However, the charging station must still be plugged into a power source to produce energy, and the device must still be in contact with the dock for the induction to take place.

Qi (pronounced CHEE) is the open interface standard for wireless power transfer using inductive charging. It was first released in 2008, and as of 2016 has been incorporated into more than 140 different mobile devices from manufacturers like Apple, Asus, HTC, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony. A Qi-enabled device needs to be plugged in or charged, but can charge your phone or device without the device being plugged in.

A Qi charging pad or other wireless charging solution must be plugged in, and to make the most clutter-free, wire-free charging station, we recommend using the Top Greener TU21558AC.

This is a USB outlet with ultra-high speed Type A and reversible Type C USB ports.  The Type A port has a total output of 2.4A and the reversible Type C port has a total output of 3.0A.  With its use of IntelliChip technology, the TU21558AC will read the power needs of the device and deliver maximum power accordingly without overcharging or short circuiting.  This still leaves two tamper-resistant outlets for other power needs and eliminates the use of adapters with USB charging devices.  Plug your wireless charging pad into the TU21558AC for optimal performance.

The excitement building for over-the-air charging is based largely on claims that some transmitters, such as the Power Spot transmitter from Powercast, will be able to charge multiple devices at a distance up to 80 feet. That is an astounding number, but questionable when you consider Energous has stated their FCC approved transmitter is currently capable of charging at max 3 feet away. That is a huge difference, and there is a strong possibility that Powercast is making a claim based on their test models, and not what consumers will receive after FCC approval.  While Energous claims power and distance delivered are determined by the size of the transmitter and the number of transmitters being used, it is probably safe to say that over time, it is likely we will see on-demand wireless charging capabilities improve and extend in reach and range.

As cool as the idea of wireless charging is, there are still questions about how well it can deliver on its promise. The first one being, how much power is needed for the wireless signal to support all the devices in a room? Will this technology work for new devices, and older electronics? What will the difference in charge time be?  Lastly, the biggest concern for consumers, is how safe will this be?

It’s worth mentioning as well that most Qi-enabled and wireless charging devices currently sold on the market are not Qualcomm Quick Charge certified, and do not have their own fast charging speed stamp.  This means that there is no guarantee for faster charging speeds.  While Qualcomm Quick Charge and other fast chargers offer reduced charging times, wireless charging technology for the most part does not offer this feature.  It looks like for now we can’t have the best of both worlds.  We can either charge wirelessly, or we can charge fast, but not both.  I’m sure in a few years the situation will change, though.

It’s fun to dream and imagine what the future holds in relation to technology.  One can’t help but wonder if the creators of The Jetson’s were really cartoonists, or if they had a crystal ball that showed them the future.  Either way, we’re getting closer to a world with more technology at our fingertips with less charging cables, reduced charging times, and increased user-friendly features.  What a wonderful time to be alive!