A Future Without Cords: Wireless Charging

Published:10/18/2012   Last Updated:10/18/2012

Imagine this scenario: you walk into the airport lounge, waiting for a flight that is now delayed by three hours. You’ve got a new Ultrabook™ and you’re definitely thankful for that long battery life at this point, but your smartphone is close to dead after those hours playing Angry Birds, er, working on budget projections.  Just like almost every other airport lounge in the world, there is nary an outlet in sight, and your cords are all in transit. Are you up the creek without a charger? Not so fast – enter wireless charging.

The history of wireless charging

Wireless charging isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s been around since the 19th century when physicist Nicolas Tesla came up with the idea of wireless power transfer. It was first demoed by Intel back in 2007, with the idea being that if you can do it safely and efficiently, it would work for the majority of the devices we use every day. The idea of a laptop that people could just keep using and never, ever run out of juice, that could go directly off of wireless power or charge wirelessly? Sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but if the goal is to eventually have a completely wireless experience, these are just some of the scenarios we could possibly be looking at.

Wireless charging is seen by many as one of the biggest possible advancements we could have for personal computing in this century. Cables – messy, unwieldy, and with a predilection to getting lost at the most inconvenient times – could be a thing of the past in just the next couple of years. In addition to computers, wireless charging could make its way to the automotive industry with electric vehicles, making the charging process virtually automatic.

Two kinds of wireless charging

There are two kinds of wireless charging technologies (WCT): magnetic induction and resonance charging. Basically, the difference is distance: magnetic induction requires that the receiver be in direct contact with the transmitter, or charging device; resonance charging requires that the receiver merely be placed near the transmitter for charging.

Eventually,  the technology is aiming towards computers coming pre-built with WCT detection software, enabling users to merely place their smartphones or tablets in the vicinity of their machines and charge away (near field communication, or NFC). This would be in a “BE-BY” configuration, whereby two different devices don’t necessarily have to be touching in order to exchange energy, as opposed to a “BE-ON” configuration.

As debuted at IDF 2012, the transmitter recharging configuration will actually take up very little space (21 cm ², 7 cm x 3 cm x 5 mm) within a form factor. On the receiver side, we’re talking even smaller 5.6 cm ²), so definitely no chance of our smartphones, tablets, or mice getting bigger all of a sudden. 

Intel and IDT

Integrated Device Technology (IDT) will be developing and delivering integrated transmitter and receiver chipsets for Intel’s Wireless Charging Technology based on resonance charging technology, targeted for deployment within computers, PCs, smartphones, and the plethora of other standalone devices (like Smart Watches) out there on the market.  

Now, this isn’t necessarily limited to inductive charging or smartphones/tablets on a charging mat usage;  WCT could be a completely non-touch-based reality for the devices we use every single day. Companies are definitely putting thought and investment into wireless charging, and we could start seeing this technology soon in a range of devices.

Full speed ahead, Scotty

Now that we’ve firmly established the reality of wireless charging coming our way one day, let’s take a look at another possible scenario. You go to your favorite coffee shop, laptop in hand, to get some serious work done. Are you in for the infamous “let’s look for a plugin” dance this time? Not so fast – you’ve got wireless charging to come to your rescue. Your friend comes in with an almost dead tablet and a woebegone story of a lost cord, but the barista saves the day by directing her to an armchair equipped with a WCT transmitter. While you’re sitting there doing your work, your car is parked in the vicinity of yet another WCT transmitter, quietly recharging while you’re otherwise occupied. Sound a little bit too much Captain Kirk for you? Not at all – in fact, these scenarios will most likely become reality for us in the next few years. What do you think about wireless charging, or WCT? Are there other circumstances in which you see WCT being especially useful (or not, as the case may be)? Share with us in the comments.


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