Energous will bring true wireless charging to the masses later this year

energous miniature wattup ces 2017 img 20170105 142601
Wireless charging is a nebulous term. Despite the implication of over-the-air energy transfer between two or more devices, it’s commonly used to describe technologies that require physical contact to initiate power transfer. Qi, a common standard in smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches, is one such example. PMA, a similar but incompatible specification, is another. But the days of true wireless charging — of router-like devices that beam electricity like a modern-day Tesla coil — are coming.

One company at the forefront is Energous. The company’s WattUp technology enables wireless charging in various forms — in a small, short-throw charging dock similar to Qi and PMA products on the market today; in a medium-distance “desktop” option intended for feet-long power transfer; and in a long-throw base station that beams energy from up to 15 feet in any direction.

Energous doesn’t actually produce devices, instead it supplies the chips required for wireless power transmission. Said chips leverage a 5.8GHz spectrum that is resistant to interference from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. They rely on both beamforming, a wireless technique that improves transmission distance, and a receiver chip that converts the incoming radio signal into usable DC power. And they tap Bluetooth to ferry charging status and other data between the transmitter and receiver.

Energous demoed prototypes at 2016’s Consumer Electronics Show, but this year, the firm announced a milestone: It’s nearing commercialization. In December, Energous inked a deal with chip supplier Dialog Semiconductor to produce up to tens of millions of its wireless charging chips for products like hearing aids, Bluetooth trackers, computer mice, and TV remotes. The turnaround was almost instantaneous: Energous expects WattUp devices to begin emerging in earnest later in 2017.

At the firm’s Hard Rock Hotel suite in Las Vegas, company founder Michael Leabman walked Digital Trends through a few concepts.

The first, a wireless charge pad called the Miniature, looked a little like an off-the-shelf Qi pad. It had a parabolic arc in the center, like a small bowl, and packed a 10-by-10 millimeter chip — one of the company’s smallest antenna designs.

Unlike Qi charging pads, though, it did not require physical contact with the receiver to initiate the charging process — the WattUp-enabled TV remote at the Energous suite began charging a few inches from the charging pad’s center. It lacked a so-called “sweet spot,” the location Qi charging pads on which receivers must sit in order to charge. Energous’s charging pads transfer electricity to a device — or multiple devices –anywhere on or around them.

And they are cheap. Energous expects WattUp pads to cost no more than “a few dollars,” inexpensive enough to ship alongside fitness bands and Bluetooth trackers. “We didn’t want to add $15 to the cost of a $40 wearable,” Leabman said.

Energous had a few receiver prototypes on hand. Chipolo, the startup behind the eponymous Chipolo Bluetooth tracker, had a WattUp-enabled charger. Pegatron had reference fitness bands that charged over the air. And SK Telesys had a smart credit card.

The next stop along Energous’ tour, the WattUp “desktop” form factor, was a beast from the same cloth. The mocked-up transmitter, which looked a little like a home theater soundbar, packed enough power to beam electricity several inches around it. In a demonstration, Leabman flipped on virtual toggles in an iPad app to charge a wireless mouse and keyboard.

The distance comes at a cost. Achieving it requires multiple antennas, amplifiers, and other components, a total retail value Leabman expects to total significantly more than the charging pad — likely between $50 and $100.

Lastly, Leabman demonstrated Energous’ most impressive product — a long-distance base station. He carried a WattUp-equipped TV remote — the keys of which illuminated when it received energy — around a mock living room, the base station left sitting on the entertainment console. Even at almost 20 feet, it didn’t show signs of losing a charge.

It’s a neat demo, but Leabman said the true beauty of the WattUp system is its scalability. The WattUp’s antenna design can conform to almost any size and shape and easily stack together to build a more powerful base station — the long-range prototype base station, he explained, is essentially two WattUp desktop transmitters tethered together.

The other is WattUp’s Lowdown management system, Leabman said, a free cloud-based management layer akin to a Wi-Fi router’s settings page. From an internet dashboard or mobile app, WattUp transmitter owners can see a geographic map of their devices’ locations, the amount of power they are consuming, and the identity of receivers connected to them. Administrators can set access rules, too, denying certain devices, permitting access at certain times, or prioritizing, say, a smartphone over a security camera.

As Energous barrels toward the consumer market at full force, it’s confident in its ability to gain a foothold. Rumors persist that the company has clandestinely agreed to supply the charging peripherals for Apple’s next iPhone, a charge which Leabman neither confirmed nor denied. But he said that that company has partnered with several large consumer electronics companies — the names of which he wasn’t willing to divulge — for products due out by 2018.

As for the technology’s potential regulatory barriers, Leabman’s believes that WattUp’s technology will pass the Federal Communications Commission’s muster. Already, the FCC approved Energous’ Miniature reference design and it’s working with Energous engineers to ensure its long-range products stay within the acceptable boundaries.

“We’re confident the platform,” Leabman said. “The sky’s the limit.”

Deals

Simplify your life with one of these wireless smartphone charger deals

Banish nightly cable fumbling with a wireless smartphone charger. If your smartphone is compatible with wireless charging, the simplicity of placing it on a pad is a beautiful thing. Wireless chargers are also excellent gifts for coworkers.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

An acclaimed Apple analyst says the new AirPods are coming in 2019

Apple plans to release new AirPods much the same as it does new iPhones, and a wireless charging case, water resistance, and better Siri integration are among the improvements we can expect in future models.
Mobile

The best weather apps for the iPhone

Don't rely solely on your local meteorologist to stay up to date on the weather. Take matters into your own hands with one of these weather apps, each of which brings something unique to the table.
Web

Google’s updated Santa Tracker entertains and teaches coding throughout December

Google's Santa Tracker is in its fifteenth year and is back again with even more features. You can have fun with more than 20 games, learn about different holiday traditions around the world, and enjoy some festive animations.
Wearables

The $200 TicWatch C2 smartwatch is now being sold in the U.S. and U.K.

Digital well-being and disconnecting from your phone is one of 2018's big trends. Mobvoi wants you to think about its TicWatch C2 smartwatch as a great way to help you use your phone less.
Mobile

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.
Mobile

The Palm has been revived, and is now available in the U.S. and U.K.

A reboot of the classic Palm is finally here and it's tiny. It syncs to your phone and acts as a secondary device -- with a feature to help you disconnect from technology. The Palm will be available exclusively through Verizon for $350.
Mobile

Yes, we really are getting a special McLaren edition of the OnePlus 6T

OnePlus has announced a partnership with McLaren F1, emphasizing a shared interest in speed. The phone company is known for producing special edition devices. Here's what we know about the OnePlus 6T Mclaren Edition.
Mobile

Microsoft Outlook for iOS gets big redesign, with Dark Mode coming soon

Microsoft has deployed a huge redesign for its Outlook for iOS app, which includes new blue branding and some quality-of-life improvements. Dark Mode isn't included, but it's coming soon.
Computing

Our favorite Windows apps will help you get the most out of your new PC

Not sure what apps you should be downloading for your newfangled Windows device? Here are the best Windows apps, whether you need something to speed up your machine or access your Netflix queue. Check out our categories and favorite picks.
Mobile

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

Vanquish lag for good with the best routers for gaming

Finding the best routers for gaming is no easy task. With so many out there, how do you know which to pick? We've looked at the many options available and put together a list of our lag-free favorites.
Mobile

Beddit Sleep Monitor 3.5 now available on the Apple Store

The Beddit Sleep Monitor 3.5 is now available on the Apple Store for $150. The sensor strip, which is only 2 millimeters thin, automatically tracks a wide array of sleep data when placed under the user's sheets.