Power Electronics

Intel Announces Development of Wireless Charging Solutions

Intel announced its plans to roll out wireless power solutions at silicon level for the purpose of charging notebooks, tablets, smartphones and other portable electronics. Intel is a board member of the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) and intends to provide chipset solutions using A4WP "Rezence"-branded magnetic resonance technology to OEMs and developers.

Intel demonstrated the technology embedded into a prototype notebook, tablet, smartphone and wireless headset. Each was lowered on to a table top which had an A4WP "Rezence" wireless charger fixed underneath it and began charging when it came within range (close to or on top of the table). This not only demonstrated that each could be charged by the technology, but also that multiple devices could be charged simultaneously and without having to be aligned in a very specific position.

Many of the wireless charging solutions we've seen commercially available to date have been based on tightly coupled solutions. In a typical solution, power is transferred between two coils, one of which sits in the wireless power receiver (e.g. in a mobile phone case or built into a mobile phone) and one of which sits in a compatible transmitter (wireless charger).  The two coils must be closely aligned for power to pass from the charger to the receiver in order to charge the device. In some implementations, alignment can sometimes be difficult to achieve (e.g., in designs where the device to be charged can easily slip out of charging position). Greater freedom of movement and alignment can be achieved using a multi-coil solution but these solutions often still restrict implementations where the user wishes to charge through the thickness of a desk or table.

The solution Intel demonstrated uses a loosely coupled technology called magnetic resonance which offers freedom of movement and more flexibility in the distance the transmitter and receiver can be apart (so power can be transmitted through the thickness of a desk for example). The AW4P has been working on this magnetic resonance approach for a number of years and in December last year announced the availability of certification to its "Rezence" specification.

What Intel has demonstrated is also a push towards and the potential of higher power wireless charging for notebooks, potentially opening up opportunities in the office environment. Other solutions that use magnetic resonance technology exist and are being developed. The Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) has also announced it is working on a magnetic resonance specification, which will be compatible with its low-power Qi specification.

IHS published its latest forecast on wireless power in February which showed projections for loosely coupled wireless power solutions to grow rapidly from 2014 and to overtake tightly coupled solutions in 2016. These developments support these assumptions.

If Intel's developments go to plan, we could see commercially available notebooks with its wireless charging enabling technology built-in by 2015.

The office environment is one which certainly makes good sense to have wireless charging available. Adoption of wireless charging in notebooks is not likely to drive mass adoption of wireless power on its own (fewer than 200 million notebooks were shipped in 2013), but may well drive adoption in other office-related electronics such as PC peripherals (e.g. the wireless keyboard and wireless mouse), desk phones, and even desk monitors in the future. It will also raise the general awareness of wireless charging and get consumers used to using it in different environments.

Having an infrastructure in place is critical for mass adoption of wireless power. For consumers to really benefit from wireless power, they need to have access to multiple "charging stations" throughout their typical day; for many their desk at work is an important one.

IHS forecasts that the total number of devices shipped annually that are enabled to charge wirelessly will increase to over 50 million in 2014 and accelerate to 900 million in 2018. This is projected to drive a combined market for wireless power receivers and transmitters worth $8.5 billion in 2018.

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