Cords? The Wireless Power Consortium Thinks They’re Old-Fashioned
Subject: Mobile | January 13, 2012 - 11:27 AM | Matt Smith
Tagged: CES, wireless power, wireless, tablet, smartphone, mobile, charging
Where was the most interesting technology at CES? Intel’s booth? Nope. Nvidia’s booth? Guess again. Perhaps you could find it at Qualcomm’s stand? Guess again.
If you ask me, the most interesting technology was tucked away in the back of the lower level of the South Hall, which is where you’ll find smaller companies and organizations that have decided to forgo a normal booth and instead just rent out space for a meeting room. That’s where you’ll find The Wireless Power Consortium and its Qi wireless power standard.
Wireless power is exactly what it sounds like. You may have already heard of the charging mats made available by companies like Energizer. These allow users to charge a smartphone simply by placing them in the right location, forgetting about cords entirely.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But there’s been a problem with them – until recently, they’ve all been proprietary. You had to use a special charging case to get the mats to work with your phone and that case wouldn’t work with competing products. You also were limited to charging in your home (or wherever you place the charging mat) which kind of defeats the point.
To fix this, there must be a standard, and that’s what The Wireless Power Consortium has created. It’s called Qi, and it’s a coil-based charging solution that can be implemented in all sorts of mobile devices. Currently the standard can handle up to 5 watts and can work within 5mm, but both of these figures are to be expanded. New technology that can handle 10 watts is being tested, and the hope is for 120 watts to be achievable in the near future. That would allow for wireless charging of PCs and appliances.
But enough about the specifications. Why am I excited about Qi? Let me explain.
Many current smartphones have mini-USB ports for one reason only – charging. Everything else, from syncing music to downloading files, can be achieved through a wireless connection. If that port could be removed entirely, it would allow for more design flexibility. Take the current Droid Razr, for example. It is extremely thin except for a bulge that houses the camera and the ports. If you could charge your phone wirelessly, designers would have one less port to design around.
Battery life is another part of this equation. As technology in our mobile devices continues to improve at an amazing rate, battery technology doesn’t seem able to keep up. I know – I own a HTC Thunderbolt. My phone has notoriously bad battery life with 4G LTE enabled.
One solution is to make batteries bigger, but that increases weight, size and cost. Wireless power offers an alternative – make charging easier and more frequent. If you had wireless power in your car, at work and at home, your phone could easily maintain a high level of charge. And since it’s wireless, you don’t have to do anything except place your phone in the right place.
The Wireless Power Consortium booth – er, meeting room – had some interesting examples to show me. One was a table with a built-in Qi compatible charger that can be deployed at restaurants, coffee shops and other places. In fact, some such tables can already be found in Japan and China. They number only in the hundreds, but it’s start.
For our Asian friends, who use more public transportation and tend to live in more densely packed cities, charging tables make a lot of sense. But here in North America we tend to get around with our own private vehicles. To help the standard get traction here, The Wireless Power Consortium is working with auto manufacturers to place wireless charging in automobiles. They hope that we’ll see it offered in a few vehicles starting the 2013 model year.
There are a lot of pieces that need to find their place in order for Qi to really take off, but they at least have the necessary partners including big names like Motorola and Texas Instruments, among many others. Keep an eye on this over the next year – it could end up being a true game changer.
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