Power play: Wireless charging at a distance arrives

Someday soon, your parking space could charge your car

It feels a bit like being at a magic show, watching David Schatz hold a light or smartphone feet above a power pad to demonstrate how magnetic resonance wireless technology can charge any device over distance.

Schatz, director of business development at WiTricity in Watertown, Mass., can even show off the wireless "room of the future," where lamps, cell phones - you name it - can all be powered through the air, no matter where they are in the room.

WiTricity, however, won't be selling any of the wireless products it demonstrates. Instead, the company's future is in selling licenses for others to use its patented designs to build products. WiTricity has few, if any competitors, for its flavor of wireless charging, which it calls highly resonant wireless power transfer.

"They were one of the first to showcase this resonance wireless power transfer, which offers greater distances between coils versus inductive charging, which requires tight coupling between transmitter and receiver," said Jason dePreaux, a principal analyst for the Power & Energy Group at IHS Research. "My impression of WiTricity is that they're keeping it very open [for the market]."

China-based 3DVOX Technology claims it successfully developed a "3D Power System" in March 2012 that -- from a single 1.5-foot by 1.5-foot box -- can power an entire room full of electronics. The company claims its Widely Magnetic Field Launching and Focus Magnetic Field Receiving technologies are powerful enough to magnetically resonate power over many feet.

Inductive vs. resonance wireless charging

To date, products on the market have been built around magnetic induction charging techniques, which require that a mobile device be in contact with a charging surface, such as a charging pad. The leading charging pad supplier has been Duracell's Powermat technology.

Resonance charging like WiTrcity's allows an enabled device to be placed up to several feet away from a power source for charging.

Resonance charging is based on the same transmitter/receiver coil technology as magnetic induction, but it transmits the power at a greater distance. So, for example, a mobile device could be charged when laid next to a laptop with resonance charging capability or, in the case of WiTricity, it could be charged from feet away.

Lots of possibilities

The consumer product possibilities are endless for WiTricity's technology, from office desks and kitchen cabinets with embedded wireless chargers to pads buried in concrete that can charge electric cars parked in home garages and parking lots. WiTricity has even built a receiver for a solar panel, which eliminates the need to have any wires pass through a roof.

Imagine a wireless television, fed both power and media content (using Bluetooth) wirelessly. WiTricity has one.

Medical devices could also be powered with the technology WiTricity offers. For example, artificial heart pumps today must be hardwired to a battery pack worn by a patient. Wireless charging could be less invasive, helping to avoid infections in the areas where wires pass through a patient's skin.

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