Nikola Labs' case uses stray radio waves to charge your iPhone

To hear Nikola Labs co-founder Dr. Rob Lee tell the tale, some 97 percent of the energy a smartphone expends to forge data and voice connections using radio frequencies is lost to the ether. Rather than let it all go to waste, this Ohio-based startup claims to have cooked up a way to harness that power and redirect it using a a humble-looking, $99 iPhone case. Unlike more involved solutions like the ultrasound power transmission system that uBeam has raised over $13 million to help build, there aren't any transmitters you need to stand in range of. The end result? A case that silently, slowly captures your iPhone's wasted power and uses it for recharging.

Hold on, we're right there with you -- this all sounds a little magical for our liking too. Let's take a moment to reset some expectations. It's not like slapping this case on your phone will bring it from bone dry to fully charged. The harvesting antenna and DC power-converting rectifier circuit that make up Nikola Labs' secret sauce can only extend an iPhone's battery life by about thirty percent... and it does so sloooooowly. On the plus side, it's a passive process that'll continue as long the case is connected to the phone, so you'd theoretically see slower battery depletion over time instead of a sudden burst of charging activity. The lack of an internal battery or capacitors to store some of the energy being recaptured by the rest of the case also means we're looking at a total package that looks and feels significantly smaller than a normal, Mophie'd iPhone.

Dr. Lee's reputation as the former chair of Ohio State's Electrical and Computer Engineering gives this seemingly kooky outfit some much-needed credibility. The technology comes straight from the depths of Ohio State's engineering department, for that matter, and Nikola Labs has an exclusive license from the university to turn it into an actual, money-making product. A demo version of the case splayed open and connected to a live voltmeter caused power fluctuations when placed near an old Linksys WiFi router here at TechCrunch Disrupt. We can't say with absolute certainty that this isn't all some terribly elaborate troll, but from what we've seen, the chances of this being some modern day, technological snake-oil are pretty low. In any case, we'll find out for sure before long -- the startup is gearing up for a Kickstarter launch next month and promised us a much closer look at the hardware that could make this improbably wonderful phone accessory a serious must-have.