In an era where reliable internet is practically ubiquitous in every facet of our daily lives, we seem to forget that in the 1990s if you needed the internet, you had to utilise highly specialised hardware to plug your device into ports capable of accessing a dial-up connection, the now-infamous click and buzz of which is fated to be forgotten.
Since the advent of true “wireless” connection, internet, and data access from any device cellular network access, WiFi, and Wireless Personal Area Networks (WiPAN) all now standard on laptops, smartphones, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
This has resulted, says WiGL CTO, Cherif Chibane, in our “anytime, anyplace” lifestyle data and internet, providing a freedom from having to “plug in,” while never having to be disconnected. That is of course until your device finally needs its requisite power charge and, once again, you’re doomed to deal with ports, plugs, and wires.
What true wireless touchless power means
The concept of sending or transferring power wirelessly between two points has been around since we first harnessed electricity, but while the demand has been there it’s been a difficult innovation to achieve and distill. While many attempts have been made to make wireless power a reality over the course of the last century, currently existing wireless power solutions fall roughly into only one of two distinct categories: “near field” or “far field.”
Like any kind of transfer of power, wireless power requires a source that sends the power, referred to as the “transmitter”, and one that receives that energy and converts it into direct current (DC) charging power, called the “receiver.” The process of a “near field” wireless power solution, such as a simple smartphone or tablet docking station, for example, requires that the transmitter and the receiver be physically touching each other.
The other solution “far field” is the opposite in premise, albeit loosely. In “far field” wireless power transfer, the transmitter and receiver do not have to touch, and can perform the process of transfer and converting energy to DC power typically up to 15 feet apart, depending on the device being charged. Obviously neither “near field” or “far field” wireless power transfer can actually meet the defined standard of being wireless, as we understand the term today, so tech developers have seen this as an opportunity to develop a third category.
One such company is WiGL (pronounced “wiggle”), which has developed a technology that patterns the experience of charging a device closer to logging onto a WiFi network, once and for all making true wireless power transfer more of a reality than ever.
Using the concept of WiFi to realise wireless power
WiGL’s technology consists of a series of transmitters that are distributed throughout a coverage area in a wireless-electric grid. These transmitters act much like the access points on a WiLAN or base station in a cellular network. WiGL transmitters utilise built-in intelligence to “locate” devices that need charging or, in the process of transferring power, “receivers” in order to direct wireless energy to them.
What really sets WiGL apart, though, is that this process can take place while these device-receivers are in use, and in motion. A WiGL network will “follow” these device-receivers’ movements, just like a WiFi signal, until they travel out of range. When a device-receiver does suddenly move out of the range of one transmitter, a seamless handoff then takes place, and another transmitter picks up the device-receiver and the process continues. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because, in the cellular world, this is referred to as “roaming.”
Wireless power sets the stage for industry benefits
While many companies continue to try to innovate on the wireless power transfer model, the WiGL design utilises the first patented technology of its kind enabling devices to access power wirelessly the same way we access internet, cellular, or data, to potentially provide infinite connectivity and infinite mobility.
While this technology could mean incredible benefits for numerous everyday battery-operated devices, like smoke detectors or key fobs, in the near future, conveniently it can mean benefits for any current IoT device right away. For example, current smartphones are perfectly suited to utilise and benefit from WiGL in the short term. Smartphones are designed with large batteries to sustain a longer charge, but theoretically, with WiGL transmitter grids in place, anywhere in the world could feasibly be, itself, a large battery. This could be a potential catalyst for more streamlined smartphone design, with minimal internal batteries allowing for smaller, slimmer bodies, more flexible usage, and possibly a lower cost.
New technology, same concerns
A technology this innovative doesn’t come without concerns, and the safety and fallibility of a deployed, cellular-like network that provides power the same way WiFi provides internet certainly raises questions. WiGL’s answer to these questions is subsequently the continued comparison to WiFi.
Like a WiFi network, WiGL’s patented technologies essentially capitalise on pre-existing ones, as well as competitor technologies, linking them all together in a meshed network of wireless transmitters. All of these transmitters have already met all FCC certification requirements, and WiGL will follow all of the same standards and protocols as WiFi has always had to.
WiGL’s third capability demonstration, presented in conjunction with Florida International University, and published by Scientific Reports demonstrated enough wireless energy to safely recharge a smartphone at five volts between three transmitters, while the device was in motion and roaming. What that suggests is even as WiGL is already developing applications for military use with a few more enabled WiGL transmitters, there certainly could be a future of infinite mobility not so far off.
The author is Cherif Chibane, CTO at WiGL.