CES: New tech promises to expand wireless charging

PowerbyProxi says one charging box using its tools can wirelessly power up to eight devices simultaneously

LAS VEGAS -- PowerbyProxi has developed technology that it says can wireless charge AA batteries, smartphones and even headphones -- all at the same time.

PowerbyProxi claims the new wireless charging technology improves on the current industry standard Qi (pronounced "chee") tech that's now used in products that from single device charging pads to speaker systems.

Qi's creator, the Wireless Power Consortium, said that products from about 140 companies are currently certified as compliant with the standard.

New Zealand-based PowerbyProxi demonstrated its technology, not yet included in a shipping product, at Pepcom's Digital Experience show at the CES show here this week.

Greg Cross, co-founder and chairman of PowerbyProxi, said his firm's wireless technology uses loosely coupled charging, which unlike the more restrictive Qi-enabled tech, doesn't require that devices be placed within a tight parameter to achieve maximum charging efficiency.

Cross said PowerbyProxi-compliant charging pads and boxes and other products are expected to be available within a year to 18 months.

In a presentation at CES, Cross moved one Nokia smartphone around the surface of a charging pad to demonstrate that the new technology allows charging no matter where the device is placed.

In another demonstration, Cross placed three phones in different areas on the pad. All were charged at the same wattage that's available in a wall outlet.

PowerbyProxi co-founder and CEO Fady Mishriki demonstrated miniaturized wireless receivers inside AA batteries. The wireless technology takes up about 10% of the battery height.

Mishriki inserted the batteries into a toy truck, which was dropped into a white 10-in by 6-in by 6-in charging box. Once inserted LED lights in the batteries started blinking, indicating that they were charging.

The box can charge up eight batteries in multiple devices at one time. "It doesn't have to be AA batteries. They could be lithium ion or even custom batteries," Mishriki said.

Like the Qi technology, PowerbyProxi uses magnetic induction charging techniques, which require that devices be in contact with a charging surface, such as a charging pad. Or, in the case of the charging box, surrounded on three sides by a charging surface.

To date, however, the leading charging pad supplier has been Duracell's Powermat technology.

Meanwhile, magnetic resonance technology, which allows devices to be placed short distances from chargers, is likely to be available soon. \

For instance, Witricity is producing magnetic resonance technology that can be used to charge products ranging from car batteries to televisions.

Resonance charging is based on the same transmitter/receiver coil technology as magnetic induction, but it transmits the power at a greater distance.

For CES, PowerbyProxi built its own demonstration equipment, though the company has no long term plans to make and sell its own products. Instead, it plans to license the specifications to charging system makers and mobile device firms.

"They can build it in any style," said Tony Francesca, vice president of business development at PowerbyProxi.

PowerbyProxi's technology includes processer intelligence that requests the power transfer. If non-compliant metal objects are placed on a charging pad, or in the 3D charging box, no electricity is transferred.

Francesca said the ability to discern between enabled devices and ferrous (iron-bearing) metals is important especially in wireless charging technology used in car armrests or on table tops.

PowerbyProxi's technology can be fully integrated into a smartphone's motherboard so that the receiver circuit and coil can fit inside the mobile devices alongside other components with no modification to the device itself.

In contrast, the receivers on Qi-enabled smartphones are separate from the motherboard in order to address overheating, said Cross.

Bas Fransen, chief marketing officer for the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which created the Qi standard, said the Qi technology is included in many smartphones today, but is not on the motherboard.

PowerbyProxi said a charging pad using its technology can simultaneously charge up to three devices at full wire capacity (5 watts), Cross said.

PowerbyProxi's charging pad offers a total of 15 watts of power. The Qi standard currently offer 5 watts of power, but it expects to move up to 15 watts within a year.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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