Energous WattUp Hands-on: Over-the-Air Wireless Charging Wows

LAS VEGAS - It’s the rare sort of tech demo that both wows the geek in you and from a practical standpoint has the potential to make life a heck of a lot easier for everyone.

Energous did that here at CES 2018 with WattUp.

Tom’s Guide caught up with this ambitious company, which recently received FCC approval, to get a first look at how it’s first over-the-air, power-at-distance wireless charging works — and it’s impressive tech indeed.

First, I saw how a WattUp Mid Field transmitter embedded in an all-in-one PC could transmit power to multiple devices at up to 3 feet. In this case, it was a mouse and keyboard that were receiving power via built-in receiver. WattUp technology is clever enough to switch between multiple gadgets to they’re always topped off.

Energous even says that its tech is sophisticated enough to support scheduling capability.

As I moved the keyboard further away, I could see the power output drop from 67 milliwatts down closer to 20 mW. Then it went back up as I brought the keyboard closer to the computer. This sort of technology could be embedded into desktops or even laptops within 18 months.

Energous demonstrated output of up to 250 mW at CES, and the WattUp Mid Field transmitter can produce more or less, to support different functionalities and capabilities.

In another Mid Field Demo, WattUp was integrated into a Bluetooth speaker (think next generation Amazon Echo) to beam power to a nearby fitness tracker and remote control. This kind of wire-free charging is ideal for smaller devices, and you could place the transmitter on a desk or nightstand.

Worried about energy waves getting beamed at your head all night? An Energous rep said that the company’s sub-gigahertz technology transmits at well below the SAR (specific absorption rate) for phones, and that its beam-forming technology is precise enough to direct energy only in the direction of the gadgets being powered. In addition, WattUp will stop delivering juice once your device is topped off.

Next up, I saw a Near Field High Power demo, which delivers closer to 5 watts of juice to a phone. However, in this case the device needed to be placed directly on a base. So while this was indeed wire-free charging, it wasn’t at a distance. Energous says WattUp can go up to 7.5 watts in this configuration.

Why not just use a Qi charger in this type of scenario? Energous says its solution allows for greater “rotational freedom” over coil based technologies.

WattUp isn’t just a concept. At CES 2018, Energous announced a WattUp product available for pre-sale, the Myant Skiin activity tracker, which you can embed in underwear. It also showed off hearing aids from Delight and SK Telesys, though those are not available for order yet.

It’s going to take some time for Energous to work with tier 1 device makers to embed its transmitters and receivers, but overall WattUp has the potential to make charging cords a thing of the past.

Photo credits: Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.