Why a world without power cords is now within reach
Since Nikola Tesla first experimented with wireless power during the early 1900s, there has been a quest to “cut the cord” – and go wireless. Today’s applications for wireless power undoubtedly extend far beyond Tesla’s wildest imagination, as we now have the ability to wirelessly charge cell phones, power tools, and even buses while at their scheduled stops, not to mention airborne drones while flying. However, despite strong consumer and business demand for wireless charging, power cords still reign. What explains the lag in our ability to power all of our electronic devices and appliances wirelessly?
To get answers, we sat down with Alex Lidow, CEO of Efficient Power Conversion (EPC), which has developed technology that is used by many companies that are bringing wirelessly-powered products to market.
Q: There’s a well-publicised wireless power standards war taking place between the WPC (the Qi standard) and the Airfuel Alliance (using magnetic resonance.)
Magnetic resonance appears to be the superior technology but the WPC has far greater market share. Which standard will become ubiquitous and which one will be relegated to “Betamax” status?
I think a better comparison would be the cassette tape vs the CD player. Qi (cassette tapes) is a first-generation approach to wireless charging. The Qi technique of using an inductor to transmit energy has been around for over 150 years and is quite simple. The problem is that it does not offer spatial freedom (in other words, the device must be carefully aligned on the charging pad). The first-generation Airfuel magnetic resonance wireless chargers, such as the one offered by Dell for its recently announced Latitude 7825 2-in-one laptop, offer more spatial freedom, higher power levels, and the ability to change multiple gadgets simultaneously. This isn’t a standards war, it’s an evolution of a technology that will eventually replace power cords entirely.
Q: After a quiet 2016, the topic of wireless power is in the news again. This year, we already have the LG G6, the recent Latitude 7285, and rumors about the iPhone8 abound. However, despite strong consumer and business demand for wireless charging, power cords still reign. What’s holding us back from living in a world without power cords?
In short, convenience and cost. Consumers do not want a solution like the Qi inductive chargers that require careful device-charger alignment and are slow to recharge their phones. We are already used to plugging a cable into our phones, so the marginally added convenience of putting your phone on a target and waiting a long time for a recharge simply does not add enough value to make it a viable alternative. Especially when you consider that the cost of the chargers is higher than the conventional micro USB or Apple cables that we have lying around everywhere today.
We need a solution that requires no thought, and one that is fast and efficient. The only solution I see out there today with that potential is the Airfuel Alliance standard for magnetic resonance. This standard allows a certain amount of location freedom, can charge many objects at the same time, and can provide enough power to charge phones, wearables, and laptops as quickly as plugging them into the wall.