FCC certifies 'power-at-a-distance' wireless charger for the first time

(Image credit: Energous)

Image credit: Energous

Wireless charging is a cool bit of technology as it is, but for the first time, the US Federal Communications Commission has just certified a "power-at-a-distance" charger that makes the current technology look as old-fashioned as sticking in a cord looks now.

The device is called the WattUp Mid Field transmitter, and Energous, the startup responsible for making it, claims it lets you charge multiple devices at once from a distance of around three feet. 

The intended device needs a special internal or external receiver for the WattUp transmitter to work, but apparently the receiver is small enough to fit into most phones, and it reportedly also works with waterproof devices. 

Unfortunately, a distance of three feet probably means the phone still needs to sit in a fixed spot, so you shouldn't get the impression that you can charge your phone in your pocket while strolling around the office. 

Even so, Energous' official announcement gives the example of "charging a fitness band even while wearing it," which appears to mean it may work if the transmitter is beaming the waves at you while you're on the treadmill.

Energous has also developed a version of the charger that works from 15 feet away, but for now only the three-foot version has been approved by the FCC. The company posted a video of the 15-foot transmission back in 2014 , which likely still gives a decent idea of how the FCC-certified version works. 

As that video and more recent videos show, the WattUp even has the power to let you prioritize specific devices with the WattUp. Notably, that feature isn't mentioned in the latest announcement.

Riding the airwaves

Current wireless charging technology relies on inductive charging coils that require the smartphone or other device to physically touch the charger, but the WattUp works by converting electricity into radio frequencies that are then beamed at the device. This means it works regardless of whether the device is physically touching the transmitter or if it's sitting a few feet away.

As a bonus, the WattUp transmitter can work with any device – think Wi-Fi – which means you won't have to worry about your Samsung phone being compatible with a transmitter that's hypothetically made by Apple. (This is especially remarkable as Energous was once rumored to be partnering with Apple for wireless charging, but that no longer seems to be the case.) 

Earlier this year we also heard about another form of "at-a-distance" wireless charging technology from a startup called Pi, but (as of yet) it hasn't been approved by the FCC. It's not really the same type of technology as the WattUp transmitter, though, as Pi's system still relies on a resonant induction.

Unfortunately, we can currently only take Engerous' word for how well the WattUp works, but the company will be showing off the technology at CES 2018 next month in Las Vegas. It'll be a technology to watch, as FCC certification means we may now see it in devices sooner than later.