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Wireless Gadget Charging – with Light?

Posted January 22, 2015

It may seem that the wireless charging of portable electronic devices still is a novelty. But when considering the fast pace of product cycle in the electronics industry it becomes obvious that the advance of charging technologies isn’t standing in a single spot.

Photo: Microsoft Research

Photo: Microsoft Research

According to an article published in an online journal IEEE Spectrum, Microsoft Research, a subdivision of Microsoft company, is set to release a new wireless charging devices sometime in the nearest future. Their concept is more advanced than we could expect: it should be possible to load your gadgets with electricity virtually with no effort, using light as a medium to transfer the energy.

The main problem when transferring energy through the air is the distance. The longer the distance, the larger power losses become. Well, you could say that energy efficiency isn’t the main limiting aspect here as portable electronics do not require a lot of energy anyway – simply crank up the strength of the transmitting field and the problem is solved. But how about the electromagnetic safety and health of surrounding people, including yourself?

Apparently, engineers from Microsoft Research have developed a concept which solves aforementioned problems. The technology is called AutoCharge and is essentially based on a idea of solar charging made to work indoors. The operation of AutoCharge is pretty simple. You only have to put your smartphone or any other portable device equipped with such functionality on a desk or table. Then the charging system uses a special mini-camera and image processing sub-system to recognize the image of your gadget. After its coordinates are determined, AutoCharge turns an adjustable spotlight until it is directed straight at, let’s say, phone. The photo-voltaic elements integrated into the body of the phone pick up the light and convert it to electricity, in this way charging the battery.


Image illustrating the concept of AutoCharge. Image credit: Microsoft Research


As the scientists say, this is truly remote charging, and the charging rates can be achieved very similar to conventional scenarios, when the phone is plugged directly into a wall outlet. In theory, the spotlight which is used as the light source can be pointed to any location of the room. Inventors also claim that the light beam is of “moderate brightness” and therefore not harmful to anyone, especially considering the fact that it operates in conjunction with detectors based on computer vision configured to shut the light off as soon as anyone moves into the space covered by beam.

Certainly, the AutoCharge technology needs photo-voltaic elements integrated into portable electronics to make it work as described. From the technical side it is already possible to make such gadget bodies, including making them almost completely transparent. Currently the cost to produce such devices is likely to be relatively high. However, this concept is very attractive (just imagine a worry-free charging), and a working prototype of AutoCharge reportedly already exists.

Written by Alius Noreika

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