The first FCC-approved wireless charger is dumb

Charge your mobile device at a distance, of like 3 feet, but only after you’ve plugged in a receiver. Awesome. Credit: Energous.

Ah, yes, a truly wireless charger. For years this has been the holy grail of mobile tech, certainly up there with multi-day battery life and holographic screens. And it would seem that we are nearly there at last; the FCC has approved a “power-at-a-distance” wireless charging system developed by the San Jose-based startup, Energous. Unfortunately, even if the system makes it to production (which, of course, I will remain skeptical until it actually happens), it has a few notable limitations that leave me wholly underwhelmed:

First, the device, known as the WattUp Mid Field transmitter, only works over a distance of a few feet. Energous claims that the maximum distance is 15 feet, but it’s likely that the performance will degrade significantly over distance. You could theoretically place multiple transmitters throughout your home or business but, like having multiple wi-fi routers, that’s a bit of a pain.

Second, the system works by converting electricity into radio frequencies, then beaming the energy to to your mobile device, which must be outfitted with a receiver to capture the radio waves. Now, the system might be completely safe, but then again maybe there will be some long-term health effects we can’t yet anticipate. Who knows. Safety aside, there remains the fact that you still have to plug something in to your mobile device to get this whole thing to work; no receiver, no charging. If you’re within a few feet of an outlet, it may be just as easy to plug in your device the old fashioned way.

I’ll admit, however, that there would be some advantages to using Wattup. Carrying a small receiver to school or the local coffee shop, for example, would probably be easier than lugging around a power cord and brick (if it’s a laptop or tablet), and lighter even than a cellphone charger. But you have to trust that a particular place will have a transmitter and offer their power for free.

So, no, I’m not terribly excited about WattUp at the moment. But if the system can be proven reasonably safe, incorporated into a device without having to plug in a receiver, and the charging distance increased, I think we may have something promising here. Then again, this may all be fantasy, and I will treat it as such until I see it in action.

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