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FCC Approves First-Ever Wireless, 'Power-at-a-Distance' Charging Technology

One of the dreams of high-tech engineers has been to walk into a room and have your phone, computer, watch, or another device charge without requiring a physical connection. The concept is based around the battery in your device receiving sufficient energy through the air without creating a risk to your health.

While it seems like something out of science fiction movies (and not very practical), there are companies that have attempted to do this for many years. One of them, Energous, located in Silicon Valley, has announced that they have advanced their product to the point that it just received approval from the FCC, the government agency that regulates communications, electrical interference, and safety.

Energous calls its wire-free power-at-a-distance charging system “WattUp.” It consists of a transmitter unit, which emits the radiation that charges your device. While its goal is to enable devices to charge from as far away as fifteen feet, the approval is now for just up to three feet away.

Still, it’s the first time that the FCC has ever approved a technology for wire-free charging. The WattUp transmitter, called a Power Router, is similar to a WiFi router. It transmits energy using a radio frequency (RF) signal from its array of antennas. The company claims it can charge many devices at the same time.

But there’s one catch. The key to its usefulness is that the device you want to charge needs a built-in receiver to convert the RF signal to charge the battery. And that requires the device to have a built-in special chip made by the company.

That means Apple, Samsung, or whatever device you use needs to have Erergous electronics designed in. So, while, the company has received approval, it's likely to be several years before they get approval for a longer, more practical range, and their electronics will need to be incorporated into other products.

In the interim, the company says they may introduce wireless charging pads on which you place your phone, much like inductive chargers available today, but not requiring any connections.

I would expect to see their first applications used to charge the many devices we’re installing in our homes, each of which needs either a connection to power or replaceable batteries — products like cameras, doorbells, and alarm systems.

When WattUp was first revealed at the 2015 Consumer Electronic Show, it was rumored that they might be working with Apple to incorporate the technology into iPhones. But with the slow development of this new technology, Apple and other cellphone makers chose to use inductive charging that lets you place the phone on a pad that in turn is plugged into the wall.

Energous is expected to make further announcements at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show beginning on January 9. The company does have one very big asset. Its technical advisor is Marty Cooper, the well-known inventor of the first handheld cellphone.