Before it can be truly useful, wireless charging technology needs to move beyond devices sitting on pads to where it can transmit power across a room. Energous is developing technology that can do just that, and now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted approval for the WattUp Mid Field transmitter, which can charge devices from several feet away.
In theory, wireless charging has the potential to become the new standard, in the same way that Wi-Fi largely overtook wired Ethernet cables. But to do that it needs to be as versatile as Wi-Fi, allowing devices to charge wherever they are in a room and while they're being used. In the long-term, it could kill the battery anxiety we all suffer from, since our devices could just be constantly topped up all day. Room-scale charging technology is still largely experimental, at institutions like Disney Research, Duke University, North Carolina State University, KAIST and Ossia.
To reach that kind of future though, wireless charging tech needs to overcome another issue: safety concerns. Longer range systems like the WattUp use radio frequency (RF) energy, which can be harmful to humans at very high intensities like microwaves, and has the potential to interfere with other radio signals. However, these wireless charging systems use low-level RF energy like that given off by mobile phones or Wi-Fi transmitters, which is generally considered safe, but the fact that it hadn't been formally approved was holding it back.
After several months of testing, Energous' WattUp system has been certified by the FCC, meeting the consumer safety and regulatory requirements under Part 18 of the code. Interestingly, this normally covers industrial, scientific and medical equipment, but it does also apply to certain specialty consumer-grade items like microwave ovens. That lets the system give off higher-powered radiation than those covered under Part 15, which is more common for consumer electronics.
The device itself is the WattUp Mid Field transmitter, which can charge devices by sending focused beams of RF energy to devices from a distance of up to 3 ft (0.9 m). With that range, it's designed to be used on desktops or in cars to charge phones, wearables, headsets, keyboards and mice. The transmitters could be standalone devices, or incorporated into existing electronics like TVs or fridges.
As its name suggests, the device sits in the middle of the WattUp line: On the next rung down there's the Near Field device, which is contact-based like the usual charge mats. On the high end, the Far Field WattUp would be used to charge a whole room's worth of devices over a range of up to 15 ft (4.6 m), however this hasn't received FCC approval.
Energous says it will demonstrate its latest WattUp technology at CES 2018 in a few weeks' time.
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