With the news that Apple's latest iPhones are going to support wireless charging, the tech is back in the spotlight, but it still has its limitations. You still need to find a powered mat or disc to put your phone down on, it's not easy to charge several devices at once and it's not easy to use them while they're being charged. Pi promises mat-free top ups within range of the cone-shaped wireless charging station, and support for juicing up multiple devices at once.

The Pi charger is said to provide power to phones and laptops up to a distance of 12 inches (30 cm) away, and it can handle up to four phones at once before the charging level will drop to any noticeable extent.

Under the hood the resonant induction technology is the same as that used in industry standard Qi chargers, but the magic sauce in this case is a beam-forming algorithm that can project magnetic fields around the device. Whereas making those kind of calculations would normally need a full-sized PC, Pi has managed to get them working efficiently on a much smaller and cheaper device.

The end result is you can drop your mobile device near it, rather than on it.

Any Qi-compatible phone or tablet, like the new iPhones, will work with the charger, but Pi is also providing cases that can be used with other devices. As long as you keep your phone close to the cone, you can carry on texting, gaming, social networking, or whatever.

Apple introduced its own bespoke AirPower wireless charging system at the same time as it showed off its new iPhones, and with a special AirPower mat you can also charge multiple devices simultaneously, provided they're all made by Apple. The devices still need to be in contact with the mat though, which is where the Pi Charger has the edge.

This isn't the first time wireless charging at a distance has been tried. The likes of Disney and many other companies have been working for years to try and realize the dream of having your devices start charging as soon as you walk in the room. The issue has been getting this tech from the research lab into a viable commercial product. For the moment, full room wireless charging will have to wait.

In the meantime, there's the Pi Charger, though it's not on sale yet. The tech has been demoed at TechCrunch Disrupt, where it was revealed that it's expected to ship for under US$200 at some point during 2018.

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