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10 April 2019

Ossia’s wireless charging may have achieved its breakthrough with battery deal

We have been covering Ossia’s Cota wireless charging technology for some years, as iti has embraced commodity hardware and achieved a far longer charging distance than rival approaches – enough to trickle-charge IoT sensors and negate the problem of having to replace batteries. However, the company still hasn’t landed the killer deal that would safeguard its future entirely.

This might have changed, after the start-up announced a potentially huge win with an as-yet unnamed battery supplier, but if this is the zenith of the technology, then we’ll be somewhat disappointed.

The battery deal could be a big one. It is described in the announcement as “an agreement with a global, tier one battery manufacturer, to codevelop Cota-enabled batteries. A household name, the battery manufacturer is an iconic brand.” So, perhaps a company owning a brand like Duracell, Energizer or Panasonic is getting ready to launch a new battery that can be topped up, or entirely recharged, by Cota, by the end of 2020.

For batteries, that’s a very cool advance, as there would be no need to remove the battery from its device in order to charge it, as the Cota base station will be topping up the lost power via 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz RF. But the market for rechargeable batteries isn’t exactly huge, so if this is just a small slice of that, then this isn’t a game changer.

The marketing would be pretty simple, conveying the environmental benefits of never having to throw a battery away again, and the profit margins on such a product could be pretty fat – and would likely have to be, if it meant gutting future sales.

This seems like a very big win for Ossia, which has played in the device charging and in-store digital price labels space so far, but in terms of grand IoT vision, this could be a peak of sorts. Although the Cota-enabled batteries might power IoT devices, that would likely require designers to base their devices around the more common AA battery cell format (Ossia already has a design in this form factor), rather than coin-cells. That’s not an insurmountable hurdle, but it would likely increase the physical size of the device, which is contrary to most design objectives.

But for the developers, having access to such a battery would be greatly beneficial. It could mean never having to worry about the power consumption of the device, meaning that a door or window motion sensor developer wouldn’t have to spend much time on the intricacies of the messages sent, because they could rely on the battery being topped up regardless of how many messages are sent – or their packet size.

That removes a huge pain-point for smart homes, which is changing the batteries out of the dozens of devices that are needed to create a truly smart home. At scale, this could translate into hunting down the dying bleeps of a leak detector in a basement, or the chirps of a window sensor on the brink, meaning that every weekend is spent swapping out batteries. If a consumer decided to go all-in on a smart home, and install everything at once, the hassle of changing all those batteries would likely fall pretty close together. That could lead to six months of extreme annoyance – but first world problems, in the grand scheme of things.

So, the Cota Forever Battery, as it is being called, has been designed to never run out of power. It’s based on the same tech that Cota was showing off at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2018, where it was nominated for the Best of Innovation award in the smart home. At the show, Wi-Charge also won the Best of Innovation spot for Smart Energy, with a similar long-range charging system, based around line-of-sight light. Ossia’s RF approach allows far more flexible design approaches, which is probably why we haven’t heard much from Wi-Charge since.

The trade-off between a slightly larger device housing a Forever Battery, versus a smaller one that will have a finite shelf life, seems slanted in favor of Ossia’s technology. They would also get access to the power usage telematics collected by Ossia’s hubs and then the application platform, as Cota is also capable of transferring data.

Things are looking up for Ossia, even though it might not be as revolutionary a technology as we initially hoped all those years ago. It has signed deals with Molex (electronics components), Motherson Innovations (automotive), SES imagotag and BOE Technology Group (digital labels and displays), and partnership with some of the biggest retailers.

Power consumption remains a fundamental problem for the IoT, and technologies like Cota seem to offer pragmatic ways of solving it. This would translate into lucrative licensing opportunities for Ossia, of course. “We are tremendously optimistic about this decision to bring our areas of expertise together,” says Preston Woo, chief strategy officer at Ossia. “This strategic partnership will not only help advance the evolution of portable electronic devices, but also lead to great innovations for our community and the world at large.”