Charging your electronics wirelessly is nothing new, but the wow factor is generally not enough to trump the inconvenience of finding a charging pad and charging cover and placing them both near a socket. uBeam, a company with a room-wide approach to charging, has produced its first working prototype and hopes to see it both in private and public within the next few years.
Meredith Perry, the company's founder, spoke with the New York Times on Aug. 6 to explain both the technology she's developing and where she wants it to go. The uBeam charger consists of a thin pad that connects to a power source and transmits signals to a small receiver on a gadget.
uBeam works by taking electricity from a power source and converting it into ultrasound at the transmitter, then converting it back to electricity at the receiver. This charges a battery less efficiently than simply plugging it in, but it also means that a battery can charge constantly while a user moves around a room or venue.
This method of charging a device has some noticeable pros and cons. Not being tethered to the wall is an appealing prospect, and ultrasound can penetrate a user's pocket or handbag with ease. However, ultrasound is simply a high-frequency sound wave, and therefore does not travel well through walls or across long distances. Some animals are also sensitive to ultrasound, depending on the frequency.
Still, Perry believes that a widespread adoption of uBeam technology could change phone design in radical ways. If the technology is everywhere (she intends to sell more powerful models to sports stadiums, restaurants and the like), batteries and the phones that contain them can get away with being much smaller and thinner. After all, a phone that constantly charges is one that doesn't need long battery life.
Whether uBeam will stick any better than other wireless technologies will ultimately depend on its convenience. Sure, it will give you the freedom to walk around a room while your phone charges, but so will a long enough wire.
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