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True wireless charging is almost ready

The first devices with WattUp RF charging technology are imminent.
True wireless charging is almost ready
Aaron Souppouris
Aaron Souppouris|@AaronIsSocial|January 4, 2017 6:00 AM

Three years running, I've visited Energous at CES to be pitched on its wireless vision for the future of charging. This time, things are a little different. It's not announcing a manufacturing milestone or touting independent verification of its WattUp charging tech. Instead, it's actually launching some products.

If you've never heard of Energous, it's a startup that uses RF to charge devices at a distance. There are a few different types of transmitters, but the basic tech involves a WattUp charging station sending out RF waves in a focused beam toward a compatible device. A chip in the gadget then converts the waves into direct-current electricity. This "rectification" process isn't new, but Energous' claim is it's able to do it efficiently enough to make sense for charging small devices like wearables and phones.

In the long run, Energous will offer wireless charging at 15 feet. For the first batch of products, though, it's the less-impressive microsolution -- capable of charging at a distance of just a few inches. It's basically a replacement to the wireless charging you'll find on existing wearables, but with a few benefits.

The most obvious is alignment -- you can just place your device on or by the transmitter and it'll start charging. But Energous' WattUp receiver chip is way smaller than the coil-based charging in wearables like the Apple Watch, which means it can fit in things like the Chipolo Sticker.

The Sticker is like pretty much every wireless tracking device, except it's tiny. It's about the size of a paperclip, meaning it could be attached to things I actually lose, like my glasses, or my second pair of glasses or my third pair of glasses. It's difficult to get excited about, sure, but being able to miniaturize devices or fit a larger battery in the same space is going to be liberating for product designers.

Aside from minute trackers, Energous' partners -- it has 12 active customers right now -- are producing some pretty interesting things. CVR Global is a medical-diagnosis device for use in hospitals. WattUp receivers are embedded into the sensors that go on the skin, and a cradle on the cart will ensure they stay charged at all times. There's also a wireless smart ID card and a completely waterproof hearing aid from Korean company SK Telesys, some phone chargers and a smart pen. These products are all being formally announced at CES, and will roll out over the coming months with WattUp transmitters packed in the box.

Truth be told, the lineup isn't superexciting, but it's nonetheless good to see Energous starting to make good on its promise of truly wireless charging. The company still says it has a "tier-one" partner that it previously called "one of the top-five consumer-technology companies in the world." There's no update on that front, apart from to say that the relationship is milestone-based, and it had hit all of the necessary milestones to date, and the relationship continues to be its most important.

The next phases of the WattUp rollout will come toward the end of this year, when its medium-range transmitters (suitable for covering an entire desk) will hit the market, before the full-fat 15-feet transmitters launch in the first half of next year. All of the devices released this year will be compatible with the longer-range transmitters when they arrive.

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True wireless charging is almost ready