You’ve likely heard of Powermat, the inductive wireless charging pad. Its success—3 million sold since its introduction in October 2009—has prompted 70 companies, including all the major mobile phone makers (save Apple) to join the Wireless Power Consortium. The WPC has come up with an inductive charging standard called Qi (pronounced “chee”). Fighting back, Powermat is partnering with Qualcomm, which has its own inductive charging technology called Wipower (WEE-power). The two will combine their technologies to create a yet-to-be-named competitive wireless charging standard.
Both WPC and Powermat are pushing to have their technologies built into gadgets rather than requiring the usual inductive sleeve cases, but the WPC has a huge head start. HTC, LG, and Samsung, for instance, are all about to introduce 4G phones in the U.S. with Qi built in.
Both groups also are aiming at ubiquity—including charging surfaces built into desk and countertops in homes and public locations. For example, Windsor International Airport in Windsor, Ontario, already has installed Qi charging stations. Meanwhile, Powermat has signed deals with an airport seating company and with General Motors, which will start to build Powermat charging surfaces into Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevys, and GMC trucks in 2012.
Wireless charging pioneer Fulton Technologies, Intel, and MIT all are developing wireless charging using the same magnetic resonance technology behind Qi and Powermat’s inductive charging. It’s essentially two matching coils—one transmitting and one receiving at a certain frequency—except no physical contact between the two is necessary.
At CES, Fulton demonstrated a prototype charging pad for the Tesla Roadster and other electric cars. Fulton envisions parking garages (maybe even your garage) lined with wireless power mats. In the future, you could just park your eCoupled-equipped electric auto over a pad, and your car would charge while you shop, eat, work, or sleep.
MIT’s Witricity has demonstrated a system creating enough juice to power an HDTV and a Blu-ray player. However, right now a black monolith around three feet tall is supplying the juice, which stands just inches away from the gear. The transmitting coil is designed to be embedded in a wall.
The team behind Intel’s closer-to-product Wireless Resonant Energy Link (WREL) system needs to solve size, range, and efficiency issues. If you get any farther apart than about the width of a basketball, effectiveness radically drops off. According to Intel researcher Emily Cooper, a transmitter could be built into the rear of a computer monitor or HDTV to power nearby peripherals or components.
Intel is working out not only technology issues but product development and ecosystems. Cooper believes Intel will have small, low-power WREL products within two years and higher-powered devices in five. RCA has a separate power over Wi-Fi project, but there is no ETA.