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Wireless charging "at a distance" on its way to smartphones and other gadgets

The FCC has approved a new wireless charging system, the WattUp Mid Field transmitter, said to be capable of charging devices up to 3 feet away.

Published onDecember 27, 2017

  • The FCC has approved the WattUp Mid Field transmitter, a wireless charging system that works at a distance of around 3 feet
  • The solution can charge multiple devices simultaneously, including non-smartphone products
  • The system hasn’t been announced for any commercial products yet, but we may learn more at CES 2018

While we wait for batteries that have double the normal capacity and charge five times as fast, the FCC has just approved a product that delivers the next step in wireless charging.

The WattUp Mid Field transmitter, developed by San Jose startup Energous, is a power-at-a-distance wireless system that can charge devices up to around 3 feet away. This would be a significant improvement over the wireless smartphone chargers currently available, which require that the handset is in direct contact with the unit — typically a circular pad — making them only slightly more convenient than a wired charger.

The WattUp Mid Field transmitter, which Energous announced had received FCC approval yesterday (via Engadget), is said to be the first commercial wireless charging unit to work at this distance with multiple wireless devices simultaneously: from smartphones to keyboards, headphones and more.

We actually met with the CEO and co-founder of Energous, Michael Leabman, way back at CES 2016: check out what he had to say below.

Though this is an incremental improvement in wireless charging when looked at in terms of proximity, it could be significantly more convenient than previous solutions. Having a laptop computer (itself powered at the mains) charging devices like smartphones, tablets, mice etc with multiple USB sockets can be a hassle to organize. Instead, it would be great to be able to have this space — or the same in an area of the living room or kitchen — where devices could be plonked to charge without a second thought. (Even more interesting is the WattUp Far Field transmitter the company is working on, which hasn’t yet received FCC approval but would work at up to 15 feet.)

How efficient this charging system would be remains to be seen. Typically, charging multiple wireless devices takes longer than a single device, and Energous didn’t get into speed specifics in its press release, but what could be a bigger concern is support. This solution would necessitate that devices come with compatible hardware — in this case, an Energous receiver — to work. Despite the benefits it would offer, this isn’t an out-of-the-box way to top up any Li-ion battery, and it could be difficult for the startup to get OEMs to adopt it.

Energous hasn’t yet announced any devices to make use of the technology, but the company will be at CES 2018 where we may learn more. Read more about what Energous is up to at the official site, and let us know what you think about the possibilities in the comments.

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