Wireless power-charging of devices like smartphones and cameras may not now take off until 2016, but a New Zealand firm remains in the game to bring about the revolution.
The country’s big hope in the nascent wireless-charging industry, Auckland technology firm PowerbyProxi, said it was in the midst of raising $30 million from private investors in its fourth funding round. Earlier this year PowerbyProxi had mulled listing on the NZX, but that is off the agenda in the near term.
Chief executive Greg Cross said the capital-raising, which is taking place in two tranches, should be sufficient to fund the firm through to 2016 when he expected its wireless charging systems would start shipping in consumer devices such as smartphones.
PowerbyProxi might consider listing after that, he said. “We are just going to wait and see how things develop.” The 70-person firm was spun out of Auckland University in 2007 to commercialise about 20 years of research it had been conducting into wireless power charging. It began turning heads last year when South Korean technology giant Samsung chipped in US$4m, and United States technology company TE Connectivity US$5m, to its third funding round, from which it raised US$10m.
The first tranche of its latest funding round was completed in October when it raised $10m, mostly from existing investors such as venture capital company Movac and TE Connectivity, Cross said today. “We also raised money from a number of funds and high net-worth individuals; both here in New Zealand and expats overseas.”
It had appointed a US investment bank as an adviser and expected to raise the balance of $20m by early next year, he said. Cross said he expected most of that investment to come from overseas.
He would not disclose the valuation at which the fresh equity was being raised but said it had been able to achieve valuations “that are in line with some of our international competitors, so we are happy with that”.
In February, Cross said he expected the first consumer products incorporating its recharging technology to go on sale within a year, but he said that was now looking more likely to happen in 2016.
PowerbyProxi had obtained or applied for more than 252 patents, he said. “Our research and development team has been extremely busy this year.” Though 60 of its 70 staff are in Auckland, the company opened an office in Austin, Texas, last month where it was starting to base some engineering staff, he said.
Cross said the Wireless Power Consortium, one of two competing international standards bodies, was formalising a new standard for “resonance” charging, a technology that played to PowerbyProxi’s strengths.
It would create common specifications for charging systems that allowed multiple devices of different types to be loosely positioned together and recharged from a single transmitter. “This is an area where we have led the world,” Cross said.
WIRELESS POWER EXPLAINED
Electronic devices such as smartphones and cameras can be charged wirelessly via an electromagnetic field, using a transmitter and a receiver that is built into the device. The main benefit is convenience.
PowerbyProxi has demonstrated it can embed a receiver into a smartphone and recharge it at the same speed as through a charging cable.
All forms of power transfer result in some degree of energy loss, manifesting itself as heat, which can damage devices. But it is a particular issue for wireless power transfer and minimising that loss is the key to better commercialising the technology.
Energy loss increases and heat emissions rise as the distance between the transmitter and the receiver increases. A loss of less than 10 per cent is generally considered efficient.
PowerbyProxi expects wireless charging will become a standard feature in smartphones within a few years. But the technology could also become important in electric cars, both to recharge cars and to distribute power wirelessly within vehicles.
Common technology standards for transmitters and receivers would eliminate the need for consumer electronics companies to supply a power transmitter with each device they sold.