Picture a world with no tangled charging cables, the ability to charge mobile devices almost anywhere, and wireless kitchen appliances. That probably sounds like something out of a Jetsons cartoon, but it’s a world we’re moving toward at increasing speed. The idea of wireless power is not a new one. Nikola Tesla experimented with wireless power as early as the 1880s1, and Oral-B’s rechargeable toothbrushes have used wireless inductive charging since the early 1990s.2
There’s a lot of science behind wireless charging, also called inductive charging, but I’ll try to explain the basics as simply as I can. If you don’t care how it works, go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. In essence, an electromagnetic field is used to transfer energy between two objects. A charging pad has a transmission coil that converts a regular alternating current into an electromagnetic field. The receiving device has a receiving coil that converts the electromagnetic energy back into electrical current that the device uses to charge its battery.
So, science aside, wireless charging could completely change the way we charge our electronics. For some people, it already has. As wireless charging began to emerge, companies began to create segmented and proprietary charging methods. This is seldom a good thing for consumers. Several years ago, we experienced one of the problems that arises whenever companies start developing segmented methods. Anybody remember when every cell phone had a different charger that couldn’t be used with any other phone?
Thankfully, back in 2008, an international group of corporations decided that wireless power; like Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi; needed international standards. This group created the Wireless Power Consortium, which has developed an international standard for low power (up to 5 Watts) devices. They called this standard Qi (pronounced “chee”), taking the name from the traditional Chinese concept of an intangible flow of power. Literally translated, the word means vital energy.3
Many well known companies already have wireless charging products that conform to the Qi standard, including Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, LG Electronics, Panasonic, SanDisk and Motorola. I think that as standardized wireless charging gains popularity among the masses, we’ll likely begin seeing public Qi charging stations more and more frequently. They’ll probably become as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi hotspots. In fact, Tulsa International Airport has already implemented Qi chargers in half of the airport.2
This standard means a lot to the average consumer. It means that any device they purchase that features the Qi logo can be charged using the same charging pad. Since each device will likely come with its own charging station, you’ll have several to work with. You can even buy additional charging pads so that you can place them conveniently throughout your home and office in order to charge your devices no matter where you are.
In recent years, the consortium has started working toward medium- and high-power applications as well. According to their website, “In March 2013, the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) has established a Work Group to develop specifications for cordless kitchen appliances.”5 I think that having the ability to use your appliances without having to be within cord distance of a power outlet could make life much easier in the kitchen.
As time goes on, I’m looking forward to seeing what new applications arise as this industry matures and grows.