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A 'Wi-Fi' for charging devices is coming

Posting in Energy

An early prototype of uBeam demonstrated how ultrasound waves could be used to charge devices

The same kind of sound waves that make it possible for expecting parents to gaze at their unborn children will enable charging wireless devices through the air.

A stealthy startup called uBeam is creating an all wireless charging system that works through a concept called piezoelectricity, where electrical energy is produced through the pressure that motion causes. Sound is vibrations in the air or another medium, which can range outside of human hearing. That makes it useful for wireless charging and inspired a prototype.

Ultrasound produces the piezoelectric effect that uBeam needs for its technology while not bothering people or pets with unnecessary noise. A prototype that utilizes ultrasound was demonstrated in 2011, which attracted investors led by Peter Thiel's Founders Fund. Other VCs followed including Andreessen Horowitz, Marissa Mayer, and Mark Cuban (US$1.4 was raised).

The New York Times profiled uBeam on Saturday and said that its $1.4 million bounty is financing engineers that are working to commercialize the technology. The prototype worked within a range of 3.5 feet and generated a 5-volt charge, which is equivalent to what a USB charger would provide a device that's plugged in.

uBeam founder Meredith Perry told the times that "chain stores and some ‘quick-service restaurants' were eager to integrate a wireless charger into their plans." End users would need a receiver plugged into their device for the energy transfer to work.

This concept isn't entirely unprecedented. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a method to transfer power via magnetic fields. MIT licensed its research out to a company called WiTricity, which is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy to deliver a solution to wirelessly charge electric cars.

Another approach uses radio waves to power and connect electronics to the Web.

Would you have any use for a wireless charger?

(image credit: CNET)

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— By on August 18, 2013, 10:39 AM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure