Motorola and Lenovo are experimenting with wireless charging tech that works remotely, casting power to phones and wearables from across the room.
Xiaomi's tech – called Mi Air Charge – purportedly offers charging speeds of 5W, and works within a radius of "several meters", which is as vague a metric as any. It consists of two parts: a base station that looks a bit like a shrunken air conditioning unit, and a receiver embedded within a smartphone.
The base station tracks the device with five phase-interference antennas, which energy is shot out via a phase-control array, which consists of 144 antennas. On the mobile front, you've got a beacon antenna which helps the base station pinpoint the device, as well as a receiving array, which consists of 14 antennas that convert the millimetre wave signal into electrical energy through a rectifier circuit.
In practice, Xiaomi's Mi Air Charge opens up the possibility of charging your phone as you move about a room, and the Chinese mobile gadget has expressed an interest to bring it to wearable devices, as well as other static IoT kit.
"In the near future, Xiaomi's self-developed space isolation charging technology will also be able to work with smart watches, bracelets and other wearable devices. Soon our living room devices, including speakers, desk lamps and other small smart home products, will all be built upon a wireless power supply design, completely free of wires, making our living rooms truly wireless," the company's presser reads.
Xiaomi obviously wants people to take this very seriously, based on the weird not-quite-haiku it used to conclude the announcement, which we'll copy below verbatim because it's rather strange.
This is a revolutionary innovation of wireless charging.
This is also a bold attempt to turn the whole house wireless.
It's not science fiction, it's technology.
This is Xiaomi's self-developed remote charging technology.*
Still, there's no word on when we can expect it to enter commercial availability, or whether it will be exclusively available on Xiaomi-made kit, or released as a standard vendors can choose to adopt.
Given Xiaomi's increased emphasis on lifestyle and IoT kit, it makes sense to keep Mi Air Charge in the family to lock punters into the Xiaomi ecosystem. As we've pointed out previously, Xiaomi doesn't just sell phones. It makes backpacks, toothbrushes, vacuums, security cameras, and more. At this point, it's not strictly speaking true to call it a "phone manufacturer".
OK, so let's move on to Motorola. Their tech is a little different, if not for the fact that we know more about how it works. Rather than plonk a phone directly onto a wireless charging mat, a phone (in this case, a Motorola Edge) is placed within the charger's direct line of sight. Any obstacle placed between the charger and the phone immediately halts charging, as demonstrated by a video posted by Lenovo general manager Chen Jin to Weibo.
Again, there's no word on any eventual availability, or on the charging speeds, but the fact that two companies have confirmed they're exploring this tech on the same day suggests a heightened commercial interest from vendors.
But we can't help recalling that quote from Jurassic Park: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." As we know, conventional wireless charging is massively more inefficient than standard cable-based charging, with heaps of energy wasted as heat. We have no idea whether this free-floating permutation is even worse. ®
* "This is not just any trifle. It's a Marks & Spencers trifle." Anyone?