Energous nabs FCC certification for true wireless charging, though you'll have to wait for it

The initial technology will compete directly with AirFuel, with "real" wireless charging a couple years down the road.


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Beaming power wirelessly through the air to charge mobile devices sounds like black magic. But startup Energous said on Wednesday that it has received FCC certification for its WattUp technology, even if the promise of true wireless charging will have to wait a couple of years.

Here's the deal: The device that the FCC approved is a “contact-based” charging solution, much like the existing AirFuel technology (previously known as Rezence) that's used in the Samsung Galaxy S6.

Energous says, however, that it’s working on three wireless charging solutions, all based on the same technology, which will be delivered over the next few years. Consumer devices that use the “contact-based” technology will be able to take advantage of what the company calls its “full-size” WattUp technology as early as the end of 2017, receiving power from a transmitter up to about 15 feet away. 

Why this matters: Energous, a startup called Ossia, and Wi-Charge all promise that power can be delivered to devices like smartphones and tablets completely independently as the user roams around a room. (Energous and Ossia propose using radio waves; Wi-Charge’s solution uses infrared light converted to electricity using photovoltaic cells.) The idea is that you’ll never really need to plug your portable devices in; they’ll simply receive a constant trickle of power that will keep them up and running.

Here’s how Ossia’s technology works:

Not quite ready yet

Consumers, however, won’t be able to take advantage of this anytime soon. Earlier this month, Energous Chief Executive Stephen Rizzone laid out the company’s roadmap: The Mini WattUp transmitter, which enables “contact” charging at distances of about 3mm, should be available in consumer devices by early 2017. A second, midsize WattUp transmitter will send power out to distances of about two or three feet; partners should be shipping products by late 2017, Rizzone said. Finally, there’s the “real,” or full-size, WattUp transmitter, which will broadcast power out to about 15 feet. The latter transmitter is due by the end of 2017, Rizzone said. (It seems more likely that it would ship in 2018, however.)

Both Energous and Ossia treat wireless power like Wi-Fi, beaming the radio waves directionally and then “harvesting” them using receiver antennas that must be mounted inside client devices or at least in charging cases. Theoretically, at least, Energous should be able to charge 12 devices at once, the company said. It’s not clear how much power that it will be able to deliver at any one time. 

Energous went through the FCC certification program with an undisclosed top-tier consumer electronics hardware maker who will serve as a primary product partner, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed. Rizzone said in a recent earnings call that he was “comfortable with our forecast of closing 10 to 12 definitive licensing and joint development agreements in 2016.”

Energous also said it is in production of its transmitter and power amplification chips, and is qualifying its receiver chips.

Though Energous is a public company, it is very much a startup; for the first quarter of 2016, it pulled in only $136,000 in revenue, while spending $10.9 million, largely in research and development. That’s meant that Energous prioritized its Mini WattUp transmitter to make some money, Rizzone said. 

“I want to make it very, very clear that our prioritization of the Mini WattUp transmitter is opportunistic, and absolutely does not signal any problem with either our power at a distance midsize or full-size transmitter reference design or their path to regulatory approval,” Rizzone said in a conference call earlier this month. “Our midsize and full-size reference designs work, and are in various stages of commercialization.” 

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