Low on Power? Ask your Friend to Transfer Charge

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Even before the idea of wireless charging settled down, Sony has started preparing for an exciting future with a brand new patent that aims to solve the all-too-common problem of charging phone batteries during important missions. It is only recently that people have gotten used to the concept of asking a friend to tether over data, or… (Featured image source: https://pixabay.com/p-2142921/?no_redirect)

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Even before the idea of wireless charging settled down, Sony has started preparing for an exciting future with a brand new patent that aims to solve the all-too-common problem of charging phone batteries during important missions. It is only recently that people have gotten used to the concept of asking a friend to tether over data, or mooch free Wi-Fi at a friend’s home; however asking for a battery charge on the go might be a good test of friendship!

A patent application titled “Configuration of Data and Power Transfer in Near Field Communications” assigned to Samsung (published in March 2017) describes a system by which two devices can wirelessly trade power via Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. The devices will have an antenna system having at least two antennas, one for wireless power transfer and the other for data transfer. From smartphones, computers, routers, to home appliances like washing machines, TVs or fridges, the patent’s teachings can be applied to a myriad of gadgets, including any device that contains an NFC chip.

info boxPatent filing in NFC dates back to the late 70s. Among the first few important patents lies Philips’ patent US 4,298,793 titled “Portable element for receiving, storing, displaying and outputting digital data, and a reservation device for use in a reservation system” filed in 1979.

Current wireless charging however works via electromagnetic field – created by a charging dock or station – which generates power within a coil located inside of a given device.

Images' source: Figures 9 & 2A of Patent US 20170063431

Images’ source: Figures 9 & 2A of Patent US 20170063431

In a manner very similar to the way a user browses nearby open Wi-Fi hotspots, the invention describes that a compatible smartphone could hunt for nearby wireless power sources for topping up its phone battery. If more than one power source is available, the user needs to select any one to draw charge from.

Disney joins the quasistatic power race

With the mission of making electric power as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi, Disney announced this February that it is working on a technology similar to Wi-Fi that can power up to 320 mobile devices without cords. The technology, called quasistatic cavity resonance (QSCR), uses magnetic fields to transmit power to mobile devices, and is being developed by scientists at Disney’s research lab in Pittsburgh.

Sony has long been a flag bearer of wireless NFC technology, and had actively promoted relying on it for syncing mobile devices to other hardware, like Bluetooth speakers. The company has multiple patents related to NFC and this patent seems an interesting attempt in encouraging and expanding NFC’s capabilities. Notably, Sony was one of the main members (along with Nokia and Philips) of the standardizing body, ‘The NFC Forum’ that was established in 2004. Post the formation of the NFC Forum, patent filing rates in NFC has grown rapidly.

According to a 2014 study by ClearviewIP, Sony dominates in both number of patent filings and number of individual families. During another study conducted in 2015 on NFC-enabled smartphone mobile payments, Sony (including Sony Ericsson) leads followed by Visa, NXP, Nokia, Broadcom and Samsung Electronics. Further, Sony and NXP together held one-third of the NFC Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) issued in 2015.

Though the idea of having an alternative to searching for plug points or carrying bulky powerbanks and chargers at all times sounds lucrative, NFC technology isn’t exactly known for its ability to transfer power, and certainly isn’t something that is likely viable for sizable distances. The effective range of NFC is short enough to make this invention near impractical for mobile devices. Nevertheless we should bear in mind that patents are first, a protection of intellectual property pertaining to an invention, and not a guarantee of practical implementation. Like with all patents, we might have to wait a few years to see if Sony’s concept can actually come to life, but it sure is fun to imagine a future where you can walk into a room and start charging your phone through simple home appliances – microwaves and TVs that have the NFC feature enabled.

Subhasri Das
Subhasri Das

Subhasri is a technocrat who enjoys reading between the lines of patents to understand their hidden value.


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