Wireless charging could mean the end of power cord

uBeam's founder Meredith Perry

Room and Cord

Last week, the ever-active Apple rumor mill got some hot new grist – Bloomberg reported the company is working on new technology that would allow iPhones and iPads to charge wirelessly over a distance. But Apple is hardly the first company attempting to overthrow the tyranny of your AC outlet.

Qi Charging
The humble Oral-B rechargeable toothbrush has been using a wireless power source since the early 90s. Through a method now known as Qi Charging (a form of inductive charge), the tech typically uses a charging station or pad to transfer energy through an electromagnetic field. In 2009, the ill-fated Palm Pre smartphone debuted the Touchstone, a slick charging pod that still couldn’t save the doomed platform. The Samsung Galaxy series and the Apple Watch are the latest to use Qi charging, and Ikea has even introduced a line of furniture that uses the tech.

The much-hyped and much-funded uBeam promises to deliver a wireless charge to everything from your phone to your refrigerator in a much more innovative way – via sound waves. Founder Meredith Perry developed the tech while still a student at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011; three years later, her company announced it had built a fully functioning prototype that eventually would be available to consumers.

Because uBeam has never publically demoed a functioning unit, many doubt their ability to deliver. In October, the company released a wealth of technical details, research, and safety information on the product. That hasn’t stopped many in the scientific community from remaining skeptical, but uBeam is reportedly in talks with Virgin, Starwood hotels, and Apple about strategic partnerships.

The Cota is a meter-tall tower that delivers wireless charges to any small device within a 30-foot radius. After ten years in development, the Cota debuted at this year’s CES.

The device is filled with hundreds of omnidirectional antennae that detect electronics within range before then sending a radio-frequency pulse to provide a charge along that same path. The company has demoed several prototype devices, but the prospect of an actual consumer model could be several years away.

Now go forth (and cut the cord).