Wireless electricity has been a dream since the pioneers of electricity were doing their first experiments. Nicola Tesla proposed a system of global wireless electricity which was started at Wardenclyffe Tower in 1901. Unfortunately, as you’ve probably noticed, we don’t have a global wireless electricity system. The tower ran into financial difficulties from backers and was eventually demolished in 1917, having never fulfilled its purpose. Tesla demonstrated the potential for wireless electrical transmission successfully at Colorado Springs in 1901 where he lit street lights from his experimental coil with no wires. Unfortunately, the science behind how this phenomenon worked was sketchy and the idea was shelved for the best part of a hundred years.
Mobile phones have been released in recent years with “wireless charging” and in this blog, we’ll look at the current tech and future technology and its implications and applications.
Qi wireless charging
The current standard that we see in mobile phones is called Qi and uses a type of power transfer called inductive charging., This allows charging over the air to a distance of 4cm. The system uses a charging pad and a compatible device. The device sits on top of the charging pad and energy transfer between the pad and device takes place. The first mobile phone manufacturer to use this technology was Nokia on its Lumia 920 phone in 2012. Since then various manufacturers have adopted the tech, with Apple launching it on its iPhone 8 and iPhone X in 2017. It has been mooted that Qi charging ports will start to become standard in public locations like coffee shops, airports and cars – the first Qi charging port was released in a car in 2013.
Pros and Cons of Qi wireless charging
The idea that you can charge your phone without plugging it in is an appealing one. No wires connecting you to a plug socket seems like Star Trek stuff. What is it like in reality though? Firstly, though you don’t have to plug your phone in you still have to have a pad connected to a power source, whether that’s a plug socket or USB. Instantly the promise of wireless charging doesn’t seem as wireless. Secondly, your phone will only charge when it’s in contact with the pad. How many times have you plugged in your phone when you’ve been on a call to stop your battery dying. On Qi wireless charging devices, you’ll either have to hold the charging pad to your head or let your phone die. To me, this is a worse setup that cable charging. Charging the same device also takes longer using a Qi pad than plugging it in/ Not only can you not charge your phone while you’re using it, it takes longer to charge too. Great!
The idea of wireless charging is a great one, but current technology doesn’t offer the handy “charge anywhere wirelessly” promise. There are some new technologies that do propose exactly this. A company called Energous have been developing wireless charging that operates up to 15 feet from a device, using a central charger port. This technology promises much, but it hasn’t been tested in a real-world application on a commercial level. There are rumours that Apple has invested in the technology and other technologies like kinetic charging, that will charge your phone every time you move meaning no charger at all! These technologies aren’t fully developed yet so it might be a while before we see Nicola Tesla’s vision of electricity through the airwaves to power our devices.