Energous wants to transmit power to everything from smartphones to hearing aids just like signals are sent over Wi-Fi. And on Monday, it released a piece of that puzzle, a radio transmitter chip that works with its wireless battery charging technology.
The underlying technology is called WattUp and it uses the 5.8 GHz spectrum reserved for for industrial, scientific, and medical applications. An antenna array steers the radio waves into an invisible cloud of RF energy, inside of which devices can charge up. The system can deliver wireless power from up to 15 feet away, the company says.
That contrasts with most recent wireless battery charging technology, which only spans a few inches and requires devices to be placed directly on a charging pad. Both the pad and the device contain metal coils that transfer power magnetically instead of using radio waves.
The San Jose-based firm not only designs transmitters but also receivers that convert radio frequencies into direct current, in a process known as rectification. While the transmitters are used in special base stations for homes and offices, the tiny receivers can be embedded inside things like routers and laptops to suck up power.
Founded in 2012, Energous designs the chips required for wireless power transmission, but actual products using its technology have been slow to market. The company says that will change because its technology can transmit further distances, but thus far its slow progress is somewhat self-inflicted.
The company shuttered its original plans to make wireless charging smartphone cases after it signed a deal with a large consumer electronics maker, which asked the company for smaller and thinner wireless charging technology, Stephen Rizzone, chief executive of Energous, told the Verge. That customer is widely rumored to be Apple.
In recent years, it has worked to miniaturize its transmitter chips and expand the number of devices compatible with WattUp technology. It also had to assuage regulator fears that its technology would interfere with Wi-Fi, which operates in spectrum neighboring WattUp's frequency bands.
"This new IC will be the backbone of our transmitter technology moving forward and our efforts to miniaturize and reduce costs for our customers will allow WattUp transmitters to be included in-the-box with many consumer devices," said Stephen Rizzone, chief executive of Energous, in a statement.
The new transmitter chip measures 7 millimeters square, compared to the 3 millimeters square of the company's receiver chips. It integrates an ARM Cortex M0+ processor and DC-DC converter on the same chip. Energous says that sample evaluation kits are now available.
The chip was developed with Dialog Semiconductor, which invested $10 million last November to become the exclusive supplier of WattUp chips and jump start the technology's adoption. Special software helps the transmitter link up with a Dialog Bluetooth Smart chip. WattUp uses Bluetooth to locate and track the charging of nearby devices.
There is some evidence that companies are interested. At the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Energous showed several devices ranging from power dongles and hearing aids that could be charged with WattUp technology. The catch was that they could only be charged on a short-range charging pad, not from 15 feet away.
Energous has not said when its long-range technology will come out. But it has said that the charging pad technology would help make its technology more prevalent and the switch to long-range technology more seamless.