Truly wireless charging as a technology for the near future: many prospects, not without contradictions …
The 'wireless charging' capability built into the latest devices such as the iPhone XS gives the impression of a wireless true consumer electronics. Of course, this is not entirely true. A premium charging pad needs to be plugged somewhere, such as a power outlet. So even after upgrading to the newest and best smartphones, there are enough wires to trip over. Thus, the inevitable question arises: when will we finally get rid of wires completely? The answer depends on who the question is addressed to and how far into the future your thinking goes.
The technology required for truly wireless charging was developed as early as 1890, pioneered by Nikola Tesla, an inventor and scientist who successfully transmitted power over long distances during demonstrations but never completed his research. Tesla – a person other than an electric car manufacturer – actually invented many modern technologies for wireless transmission of electricity almost a century ago, including the basics of capacitive charging. A century later, we are just beginning to delve into these ideas.
Wireless charging in modern phones uses a technology called 'inductive coupling' that works over very short distances. This method can hardly be called new and wireless: vintage electric brushes made by Oral-B used this technology back in the nineties of the last century. If your current phone supports wireless charging, then you can hold it about an inch from the charging pad and keep it electrified. But from a practical point of view, the device must be placed on it. The charger houses a tight copper coil that generates an electromagnetic field. This field is picked up by another coil at the back of the device, and then converted back to electricity.
Interest in this technology has increased since the inclusion of wireless charging technology in iPhone X and iPhone 8. For this reason, the smartphone industry has finally adopted the Qi wireless charging standard, which guarantees compatibility with a variety of chargers. . Qi has been on the market for a long time in various variations: many Android – devices have been using the technology since the Palm Pre in 2009. The introduction of Qi in iPhone spawned many chargers on the market almost overnight. Owning a hefty market share Apple made it clear: wireless charging is with us for a long time. Suddenly, Qi charging pads are all over the place, and IKEA has even experimented with embedding the technology directly into their furniture.
Resonant inductive coupling, which is in many ways similar to inductive coupling, uses one side of a copper coil to 'resonate' or 'vibrate', resulting in the ability to send relatively high power over long distances. Others use other ideas for this, such as radio frequencies, for example, as in Energous's WattUp, which theoretically allows you to transfer the charge up to 4.5 meters.
Researchers are actively working on these ideas and some demonstrations are already available at the proper level. Disney showed a prototype of a 'living room' in 2017 that can wirelessly charge up to ten devices, including iPhone, a lamp and other gadgets. The idea in the long run is to put a lot of coils in the walls and forget about the wires forever. But at the moment she has a catch: Disney asks you not to stand within 46 centimeters of the huge copper pillar in the center of the room. The reason is that government guidelines are exceeded in terms of the impact of energy on humans.
Stephen R. Rizzon, president and CEO of Energous Corporation, said the company is looking for a more convenient future, “where electronic devices are constantly recharged, which contrasts with today's need to monitor battery levels and rush to find a way to charge them.” COTA promises a Wi-Fi-like charging experience, simply place the transmitter and supported devices in range begin charging. The company is also working on a 'eternal battery' that fits into older devices, such as those that run on AA batteries, to be backward compatible with its wireless technology.
However, some of the significant limitations for this type of product are safety and regulation. On the one hand, wireless charging actually reduces the risk of electric shock, because open sockets in the walls are no longer needed and the child will not be able to insert the plug into the wall and get into the copper coils. On the other hand, not much is known about the safety of magnetic fields and its effect on the human body. Another startup in the industry, WiTricity, says the risks are no higher than with any other wireless technology, although of course it shouldn't have been otherwise.
There is another problem – miniaturization. It's one thing to fit a large coil into a phone, but what about light bulbs, soundbars, or even laptops? Will we be able to fit these technologies into the case as devices get thinner? On further consideration, questions remain about whether it will be possible to transmit enough electricity to power a TV, computer and several phones at the same time. Rezzon thinks it's real: “The ability to move from kitchen to living room and bedroom while constantly charging your phone through secure wireless technology is even closer than you think.”
He is right that true wireless technology is on the horizon and we can see the prerequisites for its deployment in today's electric vehicles. WiTricity, which originally created custom apps and only recently got into wireless car chargers, has already launched its products on the market. Just put your electric car on the charging mat, the battery will be recharged by 100% overnight.
By the end of this decade, many of us are likely to experience wireless technology at home or in the office as it becomes the new standard and changes the way we think about wired solutions. The wires are long and painfully receding into the past, but for the first time the final rejection of them is not far off.
By Owen Williams
For various reasons, wireless charging passed me by, occasionally used it with the Nexus 5, the implementation is sane, but at that time it did not cause delight. In the future, it turned out that the available smartphones did not support this protocol, and fast wired charging helped out and helps out. Nevertheless, the trend to get rid of wires cannot be stopped anymore, major industry players dictate their vision to the market and adjust them to it. The described projects look interesting, but, as the author said, everything rests on the absence of a clear legislative and regulatory framework and objective data on the consequences of long-term exposure to technology on humans.
Are you ready to upgrade to wireless charging? Is the game worth the candle or is this just another tricky trick of the manufacturers?