Design obstacles and consumer mindset are still holding up the mainstream adoption of wireless charging

By Mark
Hopgood, Dialog Semiconductor, and
Neeraj Sahejpal, Energous Corporation

We live in a world that’s both extremely mobile and extremely tethered.
Between smartphones, smartwatches, fitness trackers, Bluetooth headphones,
hearing aids, and any number of other wearables or hearables, many of us are
outfitted from head to toe with a mobile device.

But these mobile devices need to be charged and charged frequently.
Depending on how often we use them and what we use them for, our devices may
even need to be charged multiple times per day. That means that wherever we go,
we need to either pack a charger or make sure that there’s a charger wherever
we end up at any given time.

That’s what we mean by tethered — our devices are only as mobile as the length of our
charging adapters allow. That also makes wireless charging something of a
no-brainer. Technology that allows us to recharge our phones, tablets, and
other mobile devices anywhere, wire-free — where do we sign up?

Wireless charging seems like such an obvious solution to our daily
charging frustrations, which raises the question: What is the holdup? What is
keeping wireless charging from bursting into the mainstream yesterday? The answer is twofold: one practical
and one mental.

Design
roadblocks
Let’s start with the practical first — the design itself.

The design challenges around wireless charging can vary based on the
device. For larger devices like phones, those problems stem from issues of
efficiency and how the device’s (and user’s) freedom of movement may impair the
wireless charging process. For smaller devices, like hearing aids and
hearables, those challenges may involve, for example, the angles at which the
devices have to be positioned, which, in turn, makes older, coil-based charging
difficult.

Yet another challenge is the size of the wireless charging solution
itself. After all, the coils for these solutions aren’t very small. That adds a
new complication to the device’s design — how do you make room in such a small device for a
relatively big coil?

To accommodate wireless charging, engineers have to check off a number
of boxes: Is there a freedom of orientation? Is there flexibility? Is the
charging mechanism efficient? Do the devices need to be held in a precise
position to be charged? That’s a lot of plates to keep spinning all at once,
but it’s a doable challenge.

One solution that addresses these challenges is the WattUp technology
from Energous. It is an RF-based charging solution that works like Wi-Fi.

Changing a cultural mindset
The biggest obstacle to wireless charging isn’t in the design hurdles.
Engineers can always figure those out, and they are right now. Rather, the
biggest challenge is the user’s mindset and providing an answer to the inevitable
question: Why should I care about wireless charging?

Think of any major technological achievement in the past several
decades: the computer, the internet, the cellphone, the smartphone, the iPod.
Was the public asking for these things before they became available? For most
people, no, if only because it’s impossible to know that you want something
before you even know that it exists or are able to see it for yourself. The
same is true for wireless charging: Most don’t even know that they want
wireless charging or how they would benefit from it because it’s not a concept
that much of the public has even thought of before. That’s a mindset that needs
to change for wireless charging to truly hit the mainstream.

A world without chargers
Imagine a time when you don’t need to bring chargers everywhere with you, just
your device.

Wireless charging sensors could be installed throughout your home. In
your desktop at work. In your conference room’s phone. In your local coffee
shop or grocery store. In movie theaters and train stations and buses and airports.

In other words, any place where you’d expect there to be Wi-Fi could
also have wireless charging sensors that can automatically detect your device (if
it’s in proximity) and charge it remotely.

Wireless charging is a win-win scenario for
everyone. It’s a win for device manufacturers and providers to ensure an uninterrupted
flow of user data that they can continue to leverage for better customer
experiences. After all, fitness wearable providers don’t like it when users
have to take their trackers off to charge because that breaks the flow of
health data that it should be collecting. But it’s also a win for their
consumers, who never have to worry about low battery life or where the nearest
charger is ever again.

Learn more about Energous Corporation