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9 January 2018

CES: Ossia and Energous unleash rival long range wireless charging specs

This week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas will see two companies aiming to address one of the biggest concerns over Internet of Things devices – battery life.

Ossia and Energous are both focused on long-range wireless charging. The former is publishing its technology specifications as a would-be standard for others to license, while the latter has won FCC approval for its WattUp system, setting the stage for commercial roll-out.

Ossia is proclaiming what it calls a global standard for wireless power, pitching its Cota technology as the solution to the problem of charging devices in motion, without line of sight, and at a distance. The Cota Standard 1.0 spec has been released to OEMs, and Ossia will be hoping that leads to some lucrative licensing revenue, as these device developers add the tech to their designs.

With the specs, it should also ensure that Cota-equipped devices are interoperable, which should make for a better consumer experience. In theory, this would mean that Cota receivers and transmitters from any brand would work in any application, meaning a consumer could take their devices to another home or to a Cota-equipped building and receive power wirelessly – as long as they have permission to join that particular Cota network.

For developer buy-in, an open approach also means that a single design will work in all markets, across all supporting brands. “We are delivering on our vision for the Cota Standard to deliver safe, efficient power over long distances. We believe this standard is a strong foundation on which to build a licensing business model and introduce wireless power globally,” said Ossia founder and CTO Hatem Zeine.

Ossia is pitching Cota at quite a few markets. Smart homes and buildings were the first focus, but this has expanded to wearables and smartphones. Retail and industrial are newer focuses, and Ossia is also pushing Cota for use in medical applications – to power wire-free monitoring devices and equipment.

Rethink has covered Ossia a number of times in the past, as the technology evolved from simple power delivery to offering a data connection, and achieving both on commodity 2.4GHz Bluetooth and WiFi hardware. However, it has still to announce a commercial win – but CES could be the platform for this, as Ossia has said it is aiming for its first deployment in the first half of 2018.

Energous’ WattUp is something of a rival to Cota, but with a shorter range and more of a focus on powering larger devices. Currently, WattUp designs can reach 15-feet ranges (expected to launch in 2019), to power a smartphone, but Energous does seem more interested in the consumer electronics space than Ossia – which isn’t aiming for anything more power-hungry than a phone, currently.

Over the holiday break, Energous announced that it had received FCC certification for its first generation WattUp midfield transmitter design, which can send power at a range of up to three feet.  The designs are made to be interoperable, so that licensees can ensure that their devices can charge and be charged across the WattUp ecosystem – and current designs typically feature a WattUp USB to provide power to the receivers.

Energous says this is the first time the FCC has provided equipment certification to a device that charges wirelessly at a distance and operates under Part 18 of the FCC rules – which permit higher power operations than the Part 15 rules used by other at-a-distance charging devices.

“Older wireless charging technologies have received limited adoption over the past 15 years, and are confined to contact-based charging only. The FCC certification of Energous’ power-at-a-distance wireless charging transmitter is a major market milestone. We are now in a position to move our consumer electronics, IoT and smart home customers forward at an accelerated pace,” said the firm’s CEO, Stephen Rizzone.

Dialog Semiconductor is the exclusive worldwide supplier of WattUp tech. Energous promises that it will continue to improve the power, distance, and efficiency, making it capable of powering computer monitors, soundbars, smart speakers, TVs, and lighting.

For environmentalists, in devices with larger batteries, there are some clear efficiency concerns – as using RF to send power is not going to be as efficient as plugging in a wire. This would mean that an amount of electricity would be wasted – dissipated as heat or sound, and never making it into the battery cells.

There’s an obvious carbon footprint here, which may not be solvable for laptops, but for smaller IoT devices, it may be possible to cut the footprint by removing coin-cell or AA batteries from the equation entirely – feeding trickles of power to an integrated battery, and in turn boosting the amount of time that device can spend on-air and sending data.

With a long range wireless charging technology, these devices could be placed out of sight, as they don’t need to be accessible. With the ability to refill batteries, developers don’t have to suffer the trade-off of reducing the number of messages sent per day in order to achieve an acceptable battery life. Similarly, this uptime could provide better security thanks to over-the-air updates being an option (communication protocol permitting), as the device could feasibly receive a large OTA software update without cutting its expected battery life by months or years.