Wireless charging just got closer to becoming a reality

Almost time to cut the cord.
Almost time to cut the cord.
Image: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
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Sick of all those charging cords? The wireless future might not be that far off.

Energous, a company building chargers that can power electronics through the air, said yesterday (Dec. 27) the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted its first approval for remote wireless-charging technology, to its “WattUp” system. That’s a big step closer to commercial viability for wireless charging.

A day later, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a pair of patent applications from Apple relating to wireless charging.

Wireless charging is a sort of holy grail of the power industry, something everyone knows is coming but no one has quite figured out yet. uBeam, a venture-capital backed startup that claimed to have an early lead in the space, became mired in controversy in 2016 after its former VP of engineering alleged the company’s technology was a sham.

Energous, which showed off its technology at the Consumer Electronics Show this past January, had hoped for backing from the FCC in the first half of 2017. The company had said that by the end of the year, it would have technology for sale that could charge devices in a range of two to three feet. Energous aims to develop technology that can transmit enough power to charge a cell phone (5 watts) within five feet. It’s also rumored to have a contract to provide wireless-charging capabilities to Apple.

According to VentureBeat, the Apple patents discuss “creating ideal schedules for a truly wireless charger capable of sending power to phones, laptops, tablets, and watches,” and “hiding wireless charging equipment inside furniture, vehicles, and other enclosures.” Both were filed in June 2017, and neither has been approved yet.

The FCC approval gave Energous a big jolt on the stock market. The company’s shares are up more than 250% since Dec. 27, closing today at $31.57. Energous told investors on a Dec. 27 call that it is also working with international regulators to get its technology ready for sale outside the US.

Robert McDowell, a former FCC commissioner and partner at the law firm Cooley who advised the company, lavished praise on Energous during the investor call: “Energous has achieved something truly revolutionary and historic in the field of wireless charging via radio waves…This ground-breaking technology has the potential to improve the human condition in ways we cannot yet imagine.”