Making wireless truly wireless

Wireless power is not a new technology. Different embodiments have been in development for over 180 years with differing degrees of success. However, until recently, with the invention of the microprocessor, wireless power has not been a viable solution for the  challenges facing wired technologies due to inefficiencies and lack of control, causing safety and other issues. Several companies and institutions of higher learning have recently presented solutions to the challenges delaying the introduction of efficient wireless power for mass adoption, but this positive development has brought with it a new set of challenges including the problem of proprietary solutions versus the creation of an interoperable global standard. Consumer research suggests that a universal standard is the preferred solution, so it is now up to the companies interested in developing and manufacturing these solutions to develop a standard that will allow consumers around the world to power their devices across a broad range of brands and power needs under a single, interoperable standard. This solution will, like the Wi-Fi Alliance did for wireless networking, create a new protocol for how people interact with power.

Since it was first introduced as a concept and developed as a lab experiment over the last 180 years by notables including Hans
Christian Ørsted, Michael Faraday, Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi, wireless power has been a technology steeped in possibilities and promises of increased levels of convenience and freedom for consumers around the world.

As wireless power has developed over the years, an increasing number of companies have been and continue to push toward proprietary solutions using several technologies, including inductive coupling, conductive coupling and radio frequency (RF). Unfortunately, the proprietary approach to bringing wireless power to market is creating a potential challenge that mirrors one of current wired power technologies’ greatest issues: that of offering consumers a single, globally accepted solution for powering different devices with different power needs across a wide range of brands.

The solution is to follow the example of organizations like the Wi-Fi Alliance and publish a single global standard through a cooperative organization of international developers, manufacturers and distributors, which will serve as the blueprint for utilizing wireless power implementation worldwide. By approaching mass integration of wireless power through this method, many questions, including supply chain considerations, price point, device and infrastructure integration, efficiency, safety and range of power needs can all be addressed collectively, finally bringing wireless power out of the ether of science fiction and into the world of a viable real world solution, cutting the last cord.

Introduction – the stage is set

We live in a world that is rapidly progressing toward newer and greater levels of convenience, connectivity and freedom. This is the age of the wireless power and communications revolution, where everything from handheld consumer electronics to home appliances to transportation is incorporating wireless technologies to create new levels of convenience, interaction and monitoring. While tremendous progress has been made because of technologies including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, radio frequency (RF), Ultra Wide Band (UWB) and global positioning systems (GPS), one last tether has kept consumers from making the leap to a completely wireless lifestyle – the power cord. In research conducted by the Alliance for Universal Power Supplies, consumer demand for “simplicity, a better charging experience and convenience,” along with manufacturing, usability, waste and environmental concerns surrounding the billions of power adapters that are produced and shipped each year globally, have created a surge of interest in wireless power solutions.

In association with Chicago market researcher Synovate, Green Plug (www.greenplug.us), an organization committed to creating
a single plug solution for electronics, asked 1,000 online consumers about their attitude toward purchasing consumer electronics devices, which typically come with external power supplies that don’t work with any other product.

According to the survey, conducted in April, 2008, “31 percent of respondents said they regard incompatible power supplies as ‘wasteful’ and have many unused adaptors just lying around, while 30 percent described the situation as ‘frustrating’ – agreeing that forgetting to bring the right charger when leaving the house can prevent the use of an important device such as a laptop, cell phone, camera or music player. Another 18 percent said that they never thought about the situation before, 13 percent said it doesn’t really bother them and 8 percent said it is ‘costly’ – and that they have had to purchase replacements when forgetting to bring the required charger to the office, school or on a trip.”

Consumer demand, coupled with the formation of several companies in the last decade that are offering viable wireless power solutions, has generated an accelerated race to market for wireless power solutions ranging from proprietary pad and adaptive solutions to integrated near-field and broadcast technologies pursuing international standards – all of them promising the right answer.

The challenge – the emergence of wireless power as an industry

As consumer demand and multiple solutions ranging from inductive coupling to conductive coupling to radio frequency (RF) and other broadcast technologies converged on the emerging wireless power industry, questions at the consumer and developmental levels began to develop. Is wireless power safe? What is the additional cost? How will this technology come to market? Is it efficient? Is there a universal, interoperable solution? How much power is the technology able to handle? In addition to the developing questions, a challenge already facing wired technologies also began to emerge: the companies beginning to answer the questions and developing the solutions started on a fast track focused on developing proprietary applications and being first to market rather than on pursuing a global standard, which addresses these issues.

This approach has segmented the wireless power industry and, as a result, the media and private social media conversations are
seeing sometimes conflicting answers from multiple points of view, depending on the embodiment being implemented, that are creating confusion about the technologies in the marketplace and potentially delaying the implementation of useful new wireless power embodiments.

The solution – collaboration in creating a wireless power standard

Wireless power is a lifestyle technology. Like Bluetooth® and Wi-Fi™, it radically changes the way people are able to live their lives,
offering new levels of mobility, convenience and safety. It has the ability to add value and create greater flexibility in the development and use of products across a wide range of power needs and industries. As such, it is imperative that a standard application of the technology be introduced to create the greatest opportunity for mass adoption and integration into consumers’ lifestyles. Questions on the possibility of a universal standard that will allow consumers a convenient source to power their devices without the inconvenience of adapters and power cords, no matter what the brand, are at the front of the wireless power conversations happening around the world, and without a universal standard, this will continue to be a challenge.

In addition to the challenges connected with individual organizations developing proprietary solutions, the number of market  segments represented across the various power levels is another significant factor that must be considered. It is clear that
technology is needed to bridge a broader range than each individual manufacturer would normally expect. The concept that a 60 watt power supply could power anything under that wattage and supply the proper device requirements was previously seen as costly. With the advent of advanced, low-cost power supply technology, this possibility is becoming reality. The adoption of this philosophy needs to align with consumers’ expectations. If pursuit of a universal standard is not made the highest priority, it could certainly limit the widespread adoption of wireless power technology.

In addition to addressing questions on the feasibility of a universal solution, the cooperative development of a standard also  addresses other key issues that could threaten widespread adoption of wireless power technology.

The most prominent of these is the “Chicken or the Egg” issue, which poses the challenge to manufacturers on when to invest in
wireless power technology. Device manufacturers want infrastructure in place before they commit to mass production of their products, and infrastructure manufacturers want devices to use with their products before they commit to mass production. Both are valid concerns. By working independently on proprietary solutions, this question creates a potential stalemate that could delay implementation of the technology for years. Through cooperative efforts both device and infrastructure manufacturers will reach solutions that achieve their mutual needs. Additionally, by coordinating development and production activities, manufacturers will be better positioned to respond to the actual consumer demand for an integrated, interoperable solution. Taking these thoughts into consideration, in the end, it seems obvious that devices need to be manufactured to enable infrastructure. However, consumer pull based on acceptance will ultimately determine the magnitude of industry adoption and timing of entry into the market space.

In addition to the “Chicken or the Egg” challenge, there are other equally important considerations that can be addressed by the  cooperative efforts of a unified wireless power industry in pursuit of a global standard. Supply chain development and production
costs are significant factors that can have a potentially negative  effect on integration of the technology. Only when key contributors bring their collective capabilities and solutions to bear will wireless power be able to realize its immediate potential. By working with chip set manufacturers and developing design solutions collectively, issues like cost of implementation, safety, efficiency and environmental effects can all be mitigated and create an environment in which wireless power can flourish.

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