How to Ditch The Power Cord With Air Charging

Look Ma, no cables

Key Takeaways

  • Gadget companies are promising to recharge your power experience with devices that get energy through the air. 
  • Smartphone manufacturer Oppo recently revealed a wireless air charging system.
  • Israeli firm Wi-Charge is developing technology that uses focused beams of invisible infrared light to carry power.
An ipad on a flat surface with tendrils of light going into the screen.
Qi Yang / Getty Images

Get ready to ditch your charger. A growing number of companies are promising to charge your gadgets through the air without the need for cables. 

Smartphone manufacturer Oppo recently revealed a wireless air charging system. Chinese phone maker Xiaomi already has unveiled a similar technology that could be available soon. The new systems could mean the end to the perpetual search for power sockets.

"Consumers are tired of having to take care of their devices," Charlie Goetz, CEO of wireless power company Powercast, said in an email interview. "Wireless power over the air lets devices take care of the consumer."

Infrared Charging is One Approach

These new charging systems work by broadcasting energy through the air. Oppo’s technology uses magnetic resonance to deliver power when a device is 10 centimeters from a charging mat.

Xiaomi's "Mi Air Charge" takes a different approach, using millimeter-wave radio frequency technology that it claims can send electricity several meters from a charging station. Xiaomi says its air charging also can work with smartwatches and fitness bracelets.

Israeli firm Wi-Charge is developing technology that uses focused beams of invisible infrared light to carry power from a transmitter to a receiver embedded in a device like a smart home gadget. The infrared light is converted to electrical energy using a small photovoltaic cell.

"Thomas Edison changed the world when his light bulb converted electricity to light," Yuval Boger, chief marketing officer of Wi-Charge, said in a news release. "Wi-Charge is changing the world by using light to transfer electricity without wires."

“Wireless power and charging that works over distances of several feet and beyond will be as commonplace as Wi-Fi and data connectivity are today.”

There have been technical challenges to making wireless air chargers. Companies developing wireless air charging technology are working to resolve compatibility issues, market researcher Sudip Saha said in an email interview. Smartphone manufacturers, including HTC, LGF, and Nokia, are trying to bring air chargeable products to market, he said. 

Motorola reportedly recently demonstrated a prototype remote charging station with the branding "Motorola One Hyper." A company executive showed off two phones charging over distances of 80cm and 100cm in a video. The video demonstrated how charging stops when a user’s hand is placed in front of the charging station.

Technical Hurdles Remain

Progress has been slow in developing smartphones that can charge over the air. "Besides Qi, which is contact-based charging, there are several players in the Power Over Air space," Goetz said.

"However, none of them has yet to demonstrate a product in the market or have not shown much revenue progress."

Goetz said that his own company, Powercast, has released several products powered by energy that’s beamed through the air. One example is the Dynamic Luggage Tags launched by British Airways last year. 

The tags are equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID), Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and a digital display.

Someone's hand on an active smartphone.
Qi Yang / Getty Images

Powercast’s technology preserves the battery by keeping the tag dormant until it detects and harvests RF energy over the air from nearby airport RFID scanning equipment and updates the screen with the passenger’s itinerary. 

In the future, devices such as mobile phones and wearables will charge invisibly in the background from a charger placed anywhere on a desk, in a room, or in a house, without any effort by the user, Florian Bohn, CEO and co-founder of GuRu Wireless, which makes wireless charging technology, said in an email interview.

Smart Home and IoT devices such as speakers and cameras will be movable inside your home without having to connect them to a wall outlet, replace batteries, or charge them. 

"Wireless power and charging that works over distances of several feet and beyond will be as commonplace as Wi-Fi and data connectivity are today," Bohn added.

"Charging a device will no longer be an 'activity,' just like today, connecting the phone to the home Wi-Fi happens automatically in the background without conscious user effort."

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