We’re getting closer to a future without wires. During the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, wireless charging company Energous unveiled a new version of its WattUp wire-free charging technology, with a miniature transmitter that can be used to charge everything from your mobile phone to your fitness tracker wirelessly from wherever you are.
"Our goal is to essentially free you from the last wire," says Michael Leabman, founder and CTO of Energeous. "We want to free your mobile devices, or any device less than 10 watts— whether it’s a wearable, mobile device, bluetooth headset—anything that requires power, we want to cut the cord".
At CES 2015, Energous came out of stealth mode and showed off its technology in proof-of-concept demonstrations. This year’s demo takes things a step further, showing off an updated version of the technology that might show up in consumer products sooner.
WattUp involves the use of a router of sorts designed for transmitting power wirelessly to a tiny chip that is embedded in a device that needs to be charged. For instance, your mobile phone might have a chip built into it, and would then charge when you’re sitting in your living room near the charging router.
The concept is great in theory, but chances are pretty high you won’t be inclined to buy a special router just for one device. And venues such as hotels and conference centers might not want to invest in WattUp routers until WattUp-compatible gadgets are available in droves. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem that the company thinks it’s solved with this year’s announcement: a tiny transmitter that can be included in the box with a WattUp-ready smartwatch, phone, or other device. When plugged into any USB port, the transmitter will charge your device wirelessly, with no need for any additional hardware.
The new receiver chip is just 3mm by 3mm, making it tiny enough to fit in even the smallest wearables. Moving to wireless charging will also enable companies to remove the charging port on devices, allowing devices to become waterproof.
Don’t think that wireless charging means that your whole living room will be a giant charging pad, though.
"We use Bluetooth to find your device. We need to know where it is in the room," says Leabman. "We don’t transmit everywhere in the room. We actually locate a device and we focus energy in a very small pocket around that device."
So the transmitter might locate your smartwatch sitting on a table, and then focus energy around the watch. When plugged into your laptop, that transmitter could keep your fitness stand at a full charge all day, so you’ll never be without a charged battery.
As for availability, you’ll have to count on manufacturers deciding to include WattUp technology in their devices. Energous hasn't announced any such deals, but it's making an evaluation kit available at CES for potential partners to try out.