Untangling Wireless Charging

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Wireless charging brings in flexibility and more possibilities for digital displays in this digital signage world. More and more products are designed to run on rechargeable batteries to keep pace with the fast-moving and evolving trends. Wireless charging is likely to become a… (Featured image is for representational purpose. This image was originally posted to Flickr by piviso_com at https://flickr.com/photos/140977425@N05/32379229074)

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Wireless Charging Era

Wireless charging brings in flexibility and more possibilities for digital displays in this digital signage world. More and more products are designed to run on rechargeable batteries to keep pace with the fast-moving and evolving trends. Wireless charging is likely to become a standard part of smart devices and the environment around us.

The standards for wireless charging has been fluctuating for years. There have been hundreds of wireless charging products, but the confusion over the technical standards has kept the market for these devices from growing faster. The Wireless Power Consortium and the AirFuel Alliance (formerly A4WP and PMA) are the two major players competing in the domain of wireless charging standards. The techniques mentioned in the standards by these two organizations that are based on inductive charging technology are typically quite short ranged and can be quite finicky.

Several attempts are being made by companies such as Splashpower to power smartphones cordlessly; Palm was the one that launched wireless charger, the Touchstone wireless charger for the Palm Pre.

The companies came to a conjecture that proprietary charging solutions could never be successful unless wireless chargers are compatible across brands. A standard wireless charging interface was the need of the hour. Eight companies (ConvenientPower, Fulton Innovation, Logitech, Motorola, National Semiconductor Corporation, Royal Philips, Sanyo, and SangFei Consumer Communications) came together and formed an open industry group, the Wireless Power Consortium, in November 2008. The Qi interface specification was published by the Wireless Power Consortium in August 2010, and the first Qi-compliant product was certified in September 2010.

Innovation on the block

Apple entered the wireless charging domain with a number of patents published in 2017 disclosing various aspects of wireless/inductive charging. Recently, Apple launched a wireless charging pad called AirPower for charging iPhone8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, Apple Watch, and AirPods. All these devices can be charged at once. The AirPower charging mat supports Qi wireless charging standard.

Apple came up with a new idea to charge mobile phones over Wi-Fi. A patent application US20170117754A1 reveals that Apple is looking at ways to re-power its devices using Wi-Fi and millimeter wave signals. The application proposes a method of directing the electromagnetic frequencies, which are normally used for data transmission, towards a device as a “beam” of energy. According to the patent application, the power will be delivered at 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, the same frequencies that are used by Wi-Fi routers. This means that Apple’s invention could pave the way to charge mobile phones wherever there’s a strong enough Wi-Fi signal.

Another patent application US20170170859A1 discloses a next-generation iPhone removable case, which can be used for wireless charging. The removable case comprises a circuitry, which receives wireless power from external equipment at microwave frequencies. The received power is then supplied to the electronic device through wired and wireless paths. Further, Apple stipulates that this method of wireless charging can be used with various devices such as future smart-glasses, head mounted systems, and Apple Watch.

Image source: Figure 1 of Patent US20170170859A1

Further, Apple has filed a patent application US2017093198A1, which discloses a wireless charging device/station to work with third-party peripherals. In addition to charging the mobile phone, the charging device/station has the capability to play media content stored in the mobile phone.

Foldable charger:

Intel is also not far behind in the wireless charging space. Intel recently filed a patent application US2017170676A1, which discloses a foldable fabric based semiconductor package to charge mobile phones. The semiconductor package assists with on-the-go wireless charging of mobile phones. This feature does not require a user to remain at a stationary location while the mobile phone is being charged. A user can place the semiconductor package in any wearable worn by the user that includes cloth or fabric such as a garment, apparel, protective wear and many more.  The semiconductor package is designed to be folded so as to form a U-shaped receptacle so that the mobile phone to be charged can be placed into the receptacle. The semiconductor package uses inductive charging technology to charge the mobile phone.

Image source: Figure 1A of Patent US2017170676A1

The mobile device is placed in the U-shaped receptacle formed by the semiconductor package.
Image source: Figure 1B of Patent US2017170676A1

Interestingly, wireless charging technology has been around for quite some time, but it still hasn’t become a critically important technology in the gadget market. The question is whether the new product ideas will push wireless charging in conventional products.

(Featured image is for representational purpose. This image was originally posted to Flickr by piviso_com at https://flickr.com/photos/140977425@N05/32379229074)

Jugraj Singh
Jugraj Singh

A patent analyst by profession, Jugraj has a keen eye for technologies such as microcontrollers, core electronics, and physics. When not surrounded by technology, Jugraj enjoys traveling and playing musical instruments.


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