IKEA has released several products based on the Qi wireless charging specification. The company has embedded the technology in lamps, tables, and other types of furniture. (Image courtesy of IKEA).
Wireless charging has been around for a long time, but its definition is somewhat blurry. When people think of wireless charging they think of power mats, Ikea’s latest furniture, or other hardware. Basically it’s the difference between plugging a cord into a power socket or your computer, and placing it on what is often referred to as a “charging station.” This is a growing and lucrative market, forecasted at $13.78 billion by 2020.
Can this form of wireless charging, however, truly be described as mobile? After all, each of these charging devices is still connected to a stationary power source. It’s pretty difficult to leave the phone flat on a table charging station at the same time as making a call (unless you want to look like you are taking a quick nap and also talk in your sleep!). Not to mention it’s completely energy-inefficient, as charging stations suck energy even when not in use, and the large air gap just results in wasteful energy flow.
The world has changed, and people no longer want to be restricted. Consumers now expect true mobility, anytime and anywhere, and when we are at the airport, if you’re like me, you don't want to sit next to a plug socket to get power or have your head on a charging station. As people continue to embrace ubiquitous wireless technology, and as our data consumption increases, we are rapidly approaching a point where battery limitations and the hassle of power sockets are limiting our ability to be truly mobile. People no longer want to be tethered to the wall socket, reliant on the grid, or come up for air every few hours. Also, this problem is going to be exasperated when another 4.4 billion people get online. While major tech leaders are making great strides, with Facebook’s Internet.org and Google’s Project Loon, the same challenge exists—how to power the devices that will keep developing countries connected.
The challenge is that right now the world we live in is restricted by the traditional way that energy is delivered. How we access power is archaic and in some cases power is not readily available. We are still tied to the wall socket and that limits longevity of what we can do with our devices. For businesses looking to capitalize on new mobile and social experiences that demand constant power; for consumers who frequently turn to their smartphone or other mobile-enabled device for data-driven experiences, mobile apps and social connections; and for developing markets that rely on mobility and power for commerce and education. In fact, mobile phone use in developing countries has surpassed that of developed areas—this mobile revolution is transformative not only for commerce and community but for safety, yet key issues revolve around power.
It is no question the mobile industry’s upside is instrumental to our economy and during the next few years, we will see more investment as the global economy is forced to adapt. Just imagine if we could do for energy production what we’ve done for Wi-Fi mobile networks? The same way that we have Wi-Fi almost anywhere we go, energy/power could be the same and more. Imagine if, as you’re walking down the street you can produce rather than consume energy, and without ever worrying about the grid or power sockets. What if we did more than just sever the cord from the device to the grid—what if we made energy production as mobile as energy consumption? Imagine a house with no plug sockets or not having to worry about plugging your laptop in ever again? “True” wireless power is set to be transformative for mobility and is something we will all soon have in our lives.
Within the next five years, with developments in embedded hydrogen fuel cell and solar and wind technologies, energy freedom will become mainstream. These new ways of delivering power have the potential to alleviate dead battery conditions, eliminate charging-station clutter, and remove infrastructure problems. Unseating entrenched conventional technologies and infrastructure will take time, and while it presents a challenge, it is an equally significant opportunity that will be instrumental in bringing the next 1 billion people online.
We believe in the long-term that, in the future, all consumer electronics could be powered by embedded hydrogen fuel cells, freeing customers from the grid entirely. Similarly to the Wi-Fi revolution, the next revolution in electronics is energy freedom and we’ve already proven it can work. It’s time to challenge the limitations of today’s power limitations. Just imagine the possibilities…
About the author: Dr. Henri Winand, Ph.D. has been the CEO of Intelligent Energy since September 1, 2006. Prior to this, Dr. Winand was VP of Corporate Venturing at Rolls-Royce plc. Dr. Winand is a Governing Board member of the European Union’s Fuel Cell Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) and Treasurer of the NEW Industrial Grouping. He is a member of the UK Government’s Green Economy Council, advising the Secretaries of State for DECC, DEFRA and BIS and a member of the University of Cambridge's Alumni Advisory Board. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, an MBA from Warwick University and a BEng degree from Imperial College, London.