BY REBECCA BORISON
No matter how good mobile phones may get, we’re still held back by one major problem: battery life. Every couple hours we’re forced to plug back in and find ourselves tethered to a wall.
The battery life problem is unlikely to be solved anytime soon, but the plugging into a wall problem may soon be a thing of the past. A number of companies are trying to figure out wireless charging technologies. And according to Rahul Mangharam, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania, this is the year that wireless charging will truly start to take off.
“We are seeing 2014 as this rise of the adoption of this technology,” Mangharam tells Business Insider. Our phones are getting more and more powerful, but the ability for batteries to store energy has not kept pace.”
“Our processing power is really increasing a lot, you have eight cores of processing and that’s increasing at an exponential level, but the amount of energy we can store in these devices in terms of density and volume, that’s increasing at a snail’s pace,” says Mangharam.
“The gap is becoming larger and larger, so by 2020 the gap will be exponentially larger than it is today,” he says. “There’s a big thirst in the market for this technology. 2014/2015 are going to be very exciting years for the wireless charging industry.”
It All Dates Back To 1831
The funny thing is that wireless charging actually dates back to 1831 when a scientist named Michael Faraday discovered the concept of magnetic induction.
Magnetic induction is when a circuit with a current flowing through it generates a current in another circuit that is nearby. A transmitter produces the current in its surrounding magnetic field, and the charge in the air produces a current in a receiver’s coil, which can then charge the device.
The reason you have to convert the electricity into a magnetic current is that it would be too dangerous to simply transmit an electrical current through the air. It could shock anyone nearby in the same way a bolt of lightning would. Magnetic induction doesn’t have the same consequences.
The energy travels from one coil to another to power the lights. Magnetic induction’s first big use came in the form of the electric toothbrush charger, but the technology never really picked up for consumer electronics because there was no intense need when the cellphones of the ’90s could last for weeks without recharging.
Only recently is there more interest in improving the way we power our devices.
Some technologies are more promising than others, and some are closer to market, but they’re all getting creative to tackle the century-old issue of extending battery life.
Right now you’ve got two main consortiums battling it out for the standard form of magnetic induction wireless charging. There’s the Wireless Power Consoritum with its “Qi technology.” They’re working with Microsoft, Verizon, Samsung, Sony, and more than 500 different startups. They’re working more with smartphone charging and lower-power devices.
And then you’ve got the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), which uses a similar technology, but can transmit higher levels of power and is working more with larger devices like gaming consoles or Roomba vacuum cleaners. Some of the A4WP members are Canon, Dell, HTC, Intel, and Qualcomm.
Both consortiums are working hard to make wireless charging the norm. And both are focusing primarily on the kind of charging that requires you to place your device on a surface.
Powermats Are Sort Of Helpful
The most commonly available form of wireless charging right now is a surface that you can place your phone on top of to charge. [eap_ad_1] Duracell’s Powermat is one such company that creates designated areas on tables and counters where you can place your phone, and it will automatically charge.
This would solve issues like having to carry around a charger, especially for iPhones, which aren’t compatible with universal chargers. It would also mean that you wouldn’t need to fight for the spot next to the outlet if there are charging areas on every countertop and table in a cafe or restaurant.
While Powermat got a lot of hype with its recent Starbucks partnership, the technology doesn’t really get us much farther than the standard plug-in charger.