The prospect of being able to recharge devices such as smartphones and cameras wirelessly has edged closer after two international standards bodies merged.
Auckland firm PowerbyProxi, which is a global player in the nascent wireless charging industry with 130 patents, and deals with technology giants Samsung and Texas Instruments, could be one of the beneficiaries.
Wireless charging promises to let consumers get rid of a spaghetti of cables and adapters in their homes, but rival technical standards have threatened to slow progress.
PowerbyProxi chief executive Greg Cross said a decision by the Alliance for Wireless Power and the Power Matters Alliance to merge whittled down the number of competing standards bodies from three to two.
“The one thing everyone in the industry agrees on is having a standard is going to be better for the industry and the consumer, but it is a battle.”
PowerbyProxi participates in a different body, the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which some technical journals believe has the best shot of becoming a universal standard. The 60-person firm hosted a meeting of the WPC in Auckland last week which was attended by about 80 representatives from the world’s biggest technology companies.
Cross expected wireless charging would be ubiquitous in 10 years.
“When we build houses and offices, we won’t be designing power sockets into the walls.”
Instead, power would be provided via transmitters embedded in surfaces such as wall linings, tables and benchtops.
PowerbyProxi raised US$10 million last year, $4m of which came from Samsung. It is gearing up for a further capital-raising this year with an NZX listing one option.
“We have interest from overseas investors but we have a local stock exchange that remains very positive and interested in tech companies with significant growth opportunities,” Cross said.
“This is a very fast-emerging multibillion-dollar industry. We have established ourselves in a strong position with some key customers and having the capital to grow at the speed we need to is going to be a key part of our plan.”
PowerbyProxi’s wireless charging technology has been used to recharge industrial and medical products that can be difficult to connect with power cables. Cross expected the first consumer products would go on sale within 12 months. “We are showing our prospective customers some pretty exciting technology at the moment.”
The company was spun-out of Auckland University’s engineering department in 2007, commercialising research that had been under way at the university since the late 1980s. “It is the only university in the world where you can study wireless power from an undergraduate level through to a PhD,” Cross said.
Electronic devices can be charged wirelessly via an electromagnetic field, using a transmitter and a receiver.
PowerbyProxi chief executive Greg Cross said the company could embed a receiver into a smartphone and recharge it at the same speed as through a cable.
All forms of power transfer result in energy loss, which manifests in the form of heat, which can damage devices.
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 transmitter and receiver increases. The maximum distance between them at which power can be transferred efficiently is about eight inches.
Cross expects wireless charging will become a standard feature in smartphones but the technology could also become important in electric cars, both to recharge and to distribute power wirelessly within vehicles.
A common technology standard would eliminate the need for a transmitter with each device sold.