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The Remote Charging Solution

Posted on December 1st, 2016 by in New Materials & Applications

Laptop battery

In my last post The Energy Storage Problem, we looked at how in the world of portable electronics there is a lot of investment in developing battery technology to improve its energy density. But the problem being addressed is probably actually about making a device available to the user for longer without needing to be charged (and therefore unavailable while it’s plugged in).

While improving battery technology might be one way to address that problem, it’s certainly not the only way. One of the options we identified last time was to replenish the battery without compromising the availability of the device.

Portable battery packs give us one way of doing that, but there are several companies around the world who are taking a very different approach.

Remote Charging

After turning up to a college lecture one day with a flat battery in her laptop and no power cord, Meredith Perry decided that there had to be a better way of doing things. The idea of charging points and power cords just seemed a little unnecessary. She imagined a day when wireless devices really are wireless.

And so she began work on a solution.

That was back in 2011 and over the years since, the technology has been under development at her company uBeam.

uBeam isn’t the only company working on this type of technology either. Over the last few years there have been technology demonstrations by companies like humavox and Energous who are also working to release a viable solution.

The idea they’re all working on is for our portable electronic devices to be charged while in range of (usually in the same room as) one of the systems, without having to be plugged in (or made unavailable).

How It Works

The basic idea of these charging systems is that a base station of some sort emits energy (in the form of Ultrasound for uBeams solution) which is absorbed by the device. Energy is intercepted either by a component in the portable device, or by something physically connected to it (like a mobile phone case, for instance).

The intercepted energy is then converted into electrical energy and used to replenish the battery.


Source: Techcrunch 2011, uBeam


There are a lot of challenges with implementing this type of system and the idea has come under plenty of criticism.

Presumably the technology uBeam are trying to develop will not be a full replacement for a physical power cord for laptops or mobile phones, like those we’re currently used to. Unless the team are sitting on some very sophisticated technology, transmitting the amount of energy required to fully charge a mobile phone seems impractical at best.

But it is conceivable that a system like this could be used to prolong the battery life of a phone, or keep low-powered devices around the home charged.

Time will tell whether this type of system will be commercially viable, or whether people are happy enough with having to plug in or change the batteries of their portable devices.

This goes to show though, that sometimes innovative ideas and potential new technologies can come to light when we spend a good amount of time focussing on solving the real problems, instead of jumping straight into the first possible solution we identify.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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