Electricity in the air

rays-charge-phoneToo often we are guilty of looking through the lens of current technology to imagine how a vexing technical problem might be solved.

For example, let’s consider the problem of smartphone battery life. Walk through any airport these days, and you’ll see people at charging stations or sitting on the floor by the odd wall plug to charge up their devices before their next flight.

The very thought of having a dead phone while out and about in the big wide world is apparently terrifying.

Larger screens become the norm

Looking back at early smartphones—iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, and so on—you were lucky to get four hours of battery life, particularly if you were trying to do anything other than make and take phone calls.iPhone6s

In fact, to address this very problem, Samsung was one of the first vendors to release oversized smartphones. The company touted the larger screen size as innovative and superior, but what it really needed was room to install larger batteries.

Apple and other vendors eventually followed suit, and nowadays you can get 10-12 hours of juice on a single charge.

However, like the old saying, “you can’t be too rich or too thin,” you can’t have too much battery life.

Looking at the problem, the solution would have to be improving battery life, right? Samsung, which is about to announce the Galaxy S7 smartphone, is rumored to be including a 3600 mAh battery, with nearly 38% more juice than its S6 predecessor.

What might we expect? Another two or three hours of battery life? Good, but not life-changing.

Looking elsewhere for juice

Surely, the industry will continue to work on improving battery life and reducing battery sizes.

But, what if smartphones and other mobile devices could be charged automatically, invisibly, no cords required? What if, eventually, you could go anywhere, and your phone would always be charging without your even thinking about it?100-percent-charged

Now that would be a paradigm shift. And life-changing.

Energous, a Silicon Valley start-up company certainly thinks so. Based in San Jose, CA the company is developing a radio-frequency wireless charging technology that follows a similar model to Wi-Fi technology.

You have a Wi-Fi receiver in your smartphone. When you connect to a wireless network, a Wi-Fi router transmits the signal you need to browse the web, get your email, send and receive text messages, and so on.

What up, people?

With the Energous solution, which the company calls WattUp, smartphones that employ the technology will have a small “receiver” chip built in, while one or more “transmitter” devices in the area will broadcast electrical pulses that will charge the smartphones.

Here’s how Energous describes their technologies:electric-transmitter

WattUp™ receiver technology uses multiple antennas to collect the micro energy beams created by the transmitter.  This smart antenna technology means power is delivered in smaller, safer, bite-sized amounts…WattUp™ transmitters, or power routers, deliver power within a 15-foot radius of where they are installed, creating a 30-foot envelope of wire-free charging space.  Each of these power routers can charge up to 12 devices at the same time, so your power needs are truly covered.  And the entire system is software controlled for flexible, accurate and efficient power delivery.

Device manufacturers would install the receiver chips in their smartphones and other devices. Similarly, power routers could be installed by commercial establishments, businesses, home and car owners—anyone who has a vested interest in providing the solution as a courtesy to its customers or employees.

Ubiquitous like Wi-Fi?

In a matter of a few years, the technology could be as ubiquitous as free Wi-Fi is today. You’ll walk into an airport, a Starbucks, a shopping mall, and your device will either connect automatically or give you the option of connecting.

hotspotEventually, remembering (or forgetting) to plug your smartphone into a charger will be a thing of the past.

Also, the technology could be extended beyond smartphones and other mobile devices. Other battery-powered devices—power tools, flashlights, guitar pedals, microphones, cordless phones, and so on—could benefit.

I realize the technology is not a cure for cancer. But it is pretty darned cool all the same. And it’s a great example of how a new technology has the potential to transform society in positive ways.

Of course, we’re not there yet. But, I, for one, am excited by the prospect of never having to worry about finding the odd wall socket in a crowded airport.

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