Wireless charging from 30 feet away -- does startup have a game-changer?

Ossia exec says Cota device can wirelessly charge multiple devices through walls, around corners

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The Qi (pronounced "chee") standard, developed by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), enables inductive or pad-style charging and short-distance (1.5cm or less) magnetic resonance charging. The specifications are supported by a list of 166 companies that reads like a who's who of electronics, including LG Electronics, Sony, Nokia and Verizon Wireless.

A Watertown, Mass.-based company called WiTricity has developed its own flavor of wireless charging that's designed to work across distances that exceed 1.5cm and through solid objects.

David Schatz, director of business development at WiTricity, calls the company's technology highly resonant wireless power transfer.

Schatz has demonstrated how a prototype WiTricity wireless charger, called "Prodigy," can power a device from about 10 inches away. The black, oval-shaped Prodigy charger looks much like any charging pad sold in stores today. It sells for $995 and is now essentially a demo kit for engineers, researchers and entrepreneurs who might want to use it to develop their own charging products.

WiTricity is one of several startups that are part of yet another wireless power association, the Power Matters Alliance (PMA). The PMA's members include prestigious players such as Duracell Powermat, developer of the most widely used wireless charging technology today. Starbucks coffee shops, for example, use Powermat technology to allow patrons to charge properly equipped smartphones and tablets on tabletops.

Then there's the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), a rival group that's backed by Qualcomm and Samsung. The 50-plus members of A4WP also include Broadcom, Haier, Intel, LG Electronics, and SanDisk.

The A4WP claims that its technology, too, enables users to charge devices at a distance, and the group also contends that its system offers a larger charging field than competing platforms. With A4WP technology, the organization claims, multiple devices, such as a tablet and a smartphone, could be placed on one pad to be charged at the same time.

The Cota wireless charging system is currently only available as a prototype. The charger that Zeine demonstrated at TechCrunch's Disrupt show contained 200 transmitters; in the video, it is hidden behind a curtain during the demo, but afterward Zeine briefly pulls the curtain back while answering a question, revealing a piece of equipment that appears to be about 6 feet tall.

Zeine said that once the technology is miniaturized and is no longer based on "off-the-shelf electronics," the Cota development team will be able fit 20,000 transmitters into an 18-in. cube. "The more transmitters, the higher the efficiency," he said.

The charger can come in the form of a dongle that can be plugged into a device via a USB port or another connector, or charging technology can be integrated into a device's circuitry.

The Cota wireless charger delivers about 1 watt, which is about one-third the power a device would get if it was charged via a USB power signal.

Cota said that once the technology is licensed to developers and manufacturers, he envisions that it could power anything -- a cellphone, a TV remote-control clicker, a game controller, Bluetooth headsets or flashlights.

"Just think, this could forever eliminate that annoying chirp from the mystery smoke detector with a dying battery at 3:00 in the morning," Zeine said.

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 email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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