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Wireless Charging - The death of the wires

|November 24 2010 |Technology, Break through


Though the mobile phone hardware and software capabilities have improved tremendously, the evolution of mobile phone accessories has been little lagging. Take for example, the chargers. We are so bugged up with the charging mechanisms available today. Every handset has a different charger. Samsungs and nokias of the world have their own format of chargers each not compatible with other brand handsets. Samsung is still worse, it has atleast 10 different charger types! Recently, the USB-charging has brought some sanity and uniformity to the mobile phone charging landscape. But still the universal charger is a dream..! There's one solution which has a potential to become an universal charging solution...wireless charging!

wireless-power

wildcharge-wireless-charger

Wireless Charging will take away the need for any form of wires and cables. If your mobile phone is capable of receiving radio signals over the air to communicate why cant it receive electricity over the air to charge itself? Think about it. Your mobile phone is capable of receiving GPS signals, Wi-Fi Signals, Bluetooth Signals, RF signals...but not electricity. But is it possible to transfer and receive electricity over the air? The research is on and the solution is not far from us. Read on..!

When you think about it, Solar Energy is the most obvious way to receive energy wirelessly. But the solar technology is still not matured enough to enable faster charging and the photo-voltaic technology cannot be miniaturized to fit into the needs of mobile phone's compact form factor. Even today, you have couple of solar-charging mobile phones in the market. But they are quite bulky!

powermat_home_receivers

Let's explore the various efforts being driven to offer wireless charging solutions. First up is the Power Pad solution, which basically involves a pad with thin and conductive surface that is connected to an AC power source. When you place a compatible device which has been 'tweaked' on top of the power pads, the charging takes place through conduction (physical contact). In this case, your mobile phone should be 'modified' or 'retrofitted' to be compatible with the power pads. Wildcharger for example requires the mobile phone back cases to be customized. The phone’s battery-cover is replaced with one that already has the WildCharge technology built in. Once replaced, the connector at the end of the adapter’s "charging arm” is inserted into the phone’s power plug. Duracell offers a similar solution in the form of "MyGrid". Here too, you need to buy 'power clips' that will hook on to the back of your mobile phone. Powermat is the third solution and operates on the same principle and in addition offers 'aesthetically pleasing' solution. There are more such as Palm Pre's touchstone.

wildcharger

The above mentioned approach based on 'conduction' and 'retrofitting' might look like 'too much of hassle' to achieve the wireless charging. You cannot expect the power pads to be available at all the places where you go. If you forgot the power pad, you are in trouble again. So, though the above solution enables a form of 'wireless charging', it appears to be a 'namesake' solution.

intel-wireless-power-1

What next? Couple of years back, a group of researches from MIT came together to form a company called "Witricity" - a company that specializes in realizing true 'wireless electricity' based on magnectic induction and resonance coupling. Witricity basically involves two components. The power source and the capture device. The power source when connected to AC outlet converts AC current into oscillating magnetic field. The 'Capture device' which will sit next to the gadget will capture these magnetic fields and convert them into alternatic current. These 'Power source' and 'Capture devices' are magnetic resonance systems and are claimed to be efficient. The advantage in this approach is the electricity is literally transmitted over the air. True wireless electricity is made possible. And the solution works even if the gadgets are few meters away. By configuring the capture devices accordingly you can control the current and voltage. The magnetic fields are transparent to the obstacles in the building. So, should work even beyond the walls. But the technology is still being commercialized and is expected to be widely available by 2012.

Most recently, Fujitsu, a Japanese company has developed a wireless charging solution similar to Witricity. But Fujitsu claims that their solution is much more energy efficient and can be fitted in to compact devices such as mobile phones. In addition the charging time is much shorter.

fujitsu

fujitsu-2

Realizing the need for wireless electricity, a consortium has been formed under the name of "WIRELESS POWER CONSORTIUM". The motto for the consortium is pretty straight-forward and future-looking.

WIRELESS IS BEAUTIFUL. CONNECTORS AND CABLES ARE UGLY. CONNECTORS AND CABLES ARE UNNECESSARY. WIRELESS BATTERY CHARGING IS POPULAR. INCOMPATIBILITY IS BAD.INTEROPERABILITY IS GOOD.

The solutions are emerging and are getting fine-tuned. Not to forget about the various side-effects that might open up and it's not a sweet thought to live in a constant flux of electromagnetic waves and microwaves. There's still a long way to go before we see commercial solutions that are safe, standard and widely accepted as a norm across all electronic gadgets. So, the day when all our gadgets and electrical appliances are powered wirelessly is not far away!

References:
http://www.engadget.com/2009/08/21/duracell-announces-mygrid-wireless-charger-wildcharge-feels-a-l/
http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/02/wireless-charge/
http://gizmodo.com/5636704/real-wireless-charging-will-arrive-by-2012-fujitsu-claims
http://gigaom.com/2010/06/30/wireless-charging-outlook/
http://gigaom.com/2009/10/04/10-things-to-know-about-wireless-power/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inductive_charging

Companies:
http://www.fujitsu.com/global/news/pr/archives/month/2010/20100913-02.html
http://www.powermat.com/
http://www.shoppureenergy.com/wire-free-solutions/
http://www.palm.com/us/products/accessories/touchstone-technology.html
http://www.duracell.com/en-US/category/mygrid.jspx
http://www.witricity.com/
http://ecoupled.com/
http://www.wirelesspowerconsortium.com/


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