In the past few weeks, high-street fixtures McDonalds and Starbucks have announced wireless charging pilots. Could this the start of a wireless takeover?
Wireless charging may sound futuristic, but the technology itself has been around for over 50 years. There are a number of ways to wirelessly power devices; perhaps the most prominent is known as inductive charging. (If you’ve got an Oral-B electric toothbrush, it just so happens you’ve already been using it.)
Essentially, a base station creates an electromagnetic field, with the receiver – a mobile phone, for instance – using an induction coil to convert it into power.
The science itself is relatively simple and is increasingly being introduced into mobile technology, with Samsung, Sony and Huawei being just some of the manufacturers now including wireless charging options in their mobile ranges. So, with such powerful supporters on board, it’s unlikely that the technology will be going away anytime soon.
On the hot-spot
McDonalds, meanwhile, are working with Air Charge, a UK-based organization who are part of the Wireless Power Consortium. They offer QI charging for mobile phones through hotspots. These hotspots are essentially small pads that charge a mobile device when it’s placed on top of it.
The QI standard is perfect for mobile phones that draw a small charge to power themselves. Currently, there are a large number of phones that can be charged directly, or with accessories – and the list is growing.
As mobile devices become more and more embedded into our lives, the meagre battery life of most modern mobiles is barely enough for the working day. Given its ease and simplicity of use – and the increasing spread of technology generally – the advent of wireless charging certainly makes sense.
Setting the standard
Rather like the BetaMax v VHS debate of the 80s, adoption of wireless charging beyond mobile has been hampered by the lack of an agreed standard. In fact, there are a number of organizations and alliances vying for position to establish themselves as wireless leaders. Jockeying for position in a busy marketplace against the Wireless Power Consortium are both the Alliance for Wireless Power and the Power Matters Alliance.
At CES 2015 these latter two organisations merged in a bid to strengthen their position. It’s a positive development, which should help to make things clearer for businesses, as well as for future consumers.
While mobile phones may not need a huge amount of power, tablets and laptops, for instance, are much more demanding. The Rezence Standard, supported by an impressive member list of organisations, is hoping to bring wireless charging to both tablets and laptops. These devices need much more power, up to 50 watts (10 times more than that required by a mobile phone), which poses more of a technical challenge. Thankfully, though, it shouldn’t prove too difficult a problem for these tech giants.
What is clear, however, is that the lack of a standard certainly isn’t hindering development. CES was filled with wireless charging devices from some of the old hands in the industry, as well as some surprising new faces, including car manufacturer, Audi.
Between the developments at CES, and the growing range of new devices, it would seem pretty clear that wireless charging is here to stay. Development times mean that, while the shelves might not be straining under the weight of wireless devices just yet, 2015 could be the year that the technical obstacles are swept out of the way once and for all. And with retailers embracing the technology, in the near future, it’s likely that wireless charging hotspots will be as ubiquitous and indeed essential as a Wi-Fi connection.
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