We might call phones, laptops, and tablets “mobile” devices, but true mobility is more elusive than it seems. Sure, we’re no longer tethered to our landline phones and desktop PCs, but we’re still limited by how much juice our batteries can hold, and more importantly, where we’re going to be when the juice runs out. Instead of enjoying our newfound freedom, we have to be ever mindful of our surroundings. We bog ourselves down with charging cables and battery packs; we read up on strategies to stretch our battery life as long as possible, instead of actually enjoying the gadgets they power.
Now picture this: You walk in your front door, and your smartphone immediately begins to charge itself right there in your pocket. Ditto for that iPad in your bag and the Fitbit on your wrist. The cables and extra batteries are a thing of the past, and with power no longer a concern, your devices can function in ways never before imagined.
Your smartphone immediately begins to charge itself right there in your pocket.
Hatem Zeine has already envisioned such a world, and it’s not as far off as you might think. The founder and CEO of Ossia is preparing to usher in a new era of wireless power, and it all starts with Cota, the Bellevue, Washington-based company’s flagship wireless charging technology. It’s capable of charging virtually any consumer device that uses wireless power, including smartphones, wearables, digital cameras, remote controls, electric toothbrushes, smoke detectors, and a range of connected home devices (IoT) such as thermostats, and much more.
“Cota is the technology that I invented-slash-discovered,” Zeine explains. “This happened around the year 2001 … and at the time, wireless power was classified right next to warp drive, teleportation, and time travel.”
While working on the concept of improving signal-over-noise ratio for data communications — as a means to provide consumers with better Wi-Fi and GSM signals — Zeine built a few software simulators to explore how adding more antennas could help focus their signals toward a receiver.
“Did you know that when you’re listening to the radio in the car, the antenna is actually receiving a little bit of the power that is sent out by the radio station antenna?” Zeine asks. “The radio station is emitting signals, but actually it’s power, and some of that little bit of power is ending up on your car antenna, and then that’s amplified to make a sound.”
Typically in data communication, you’re receiving about 1 millionth, or 0.000001 percent of the power that’s being transmitted … but what if we had a thousand antennas? Over short distances, Zeine discovered, he could boost the power being received all the way up to a quarter of what was initially emitted.
“I realized this wasn’t a signal-over-noise ratio improvement — this was literally power delivery over the air.”
How it works
Cota is about the size of a shoebox, and uses Ossia’s patented smart antenna technology to safely deliver remote, targeted energy to devices as far away as 30 feet. No plugs, wires, or charging mats needed — think of it as power by Wi-Fi. A transmitter in your home or office will remotely deliver data to any devices within range and charge multiple devices in the background, simultaneously.
“This wasn’t a signal-over-noise ratio improvement — this was literally power delivery over the air.”
“I have been designing electronics and computer software since I was 11, and I’ve always been fascinated by the electromagnetic signals and waves and structures and so on,” said Zeine, 50, a native of Jordan who earned a B.S. in Physics from the U.K.’s University of Manchester. “One of the things people don’t realize about the world is that very little of the world in linear … and the uniqueness of [Cota’s algorithm] was that it works not on a line of sight. You do not need to focus the antennas in its direction.” In fact, it can deliver power over multiple paths, tracking a moving device 100 times per second to ensure the user is never exposed to the power being delivered.
The Cota power system emits what Ossia calls a beacon signal — a microsecond pulse that travels in all directions and is reflected back to the source by any devices within range that are capable of receiving a remote power signal. Once the transmitter antenna receives the reflected waves, it will know every path that is open between it and that device. The power signal would then return to the device along any available path and collect at the battery, just as the radio signal collects on your car antenna.
The power that can be transmitted is constrained by FCC limits for human exposure, and as such results in roughly one-fifth to one-third the charging speed provided by USB. “Here’s the thing,” Zeine says: “the reason that people want to charge quickly is because you give up your device and you want it back. But if you have a power system at home and one at the office, and let’s say you spend 8 hours in the office and 10 hours at home, that’s 18 hours of continuous charging, and that’s roughly equivalent to an iPhone 6 charging from zero to 100 percent three times.”
Zeine and Ossia are clearly looking beyond that most obvious example of Cota’s potential.
“The next thing is that we don’t think of Cota as a smartphone charger,” he says. “Yeah, sure, you can charge a smartphone, but really the challenge is this: charging every wearable — headsets, watches, whatever you may be wearing that now needs power, and we can power them while you’re sleeping. You’ll never have to take them off. Not even just your wearables — your security system at home, your smoke detectors, your remote controls, your kids’ toys, the flashlight, the clock — anything that needs power.”
What can you do with infinite battery life?
When designing an electronic device, one of the most important questions is: How long can it survive on a single charge? Given those limitations, the designer could be forced to make any number of concessions that could impact the quality of the finished product. Zeine explains:
“They say ‘OK, if I have that much power, then I have to cut down on the features, I have to reduce the size of the CPU, reduce the size of the RAM, reduce the display or remove the display, reduce the communication grades, communicate only once a minute or once an hour.’ But if you told these designers, hey, you now have continuous power delivered to your device. you have anywhere between 10 to 1,000 times more power than you did before, they’re going to say ‘I’m going put in a bigger CPU, I’m going to put a microphone, add a speaker, be more engaged with the user, add more value.’ We will start having a greater level of functionality from every device we have.”
Cota’s impact on the tech industry will not happen overnight, but rather in a gradual progression through four stages:
Retrofitting — The technology will first arrive on the market in the form of batteries and other components that can be added to a number of existing devices to make them compatible with a Cota transmitter.
Integrating — Manufacturers will integrate the Cota technology receiver within new devices before they are produced, eliminating the need for replaceable batteries.
Transforming — Freed from power limitations, devices will be designed with new and improved features and capabilities that were previously impractical or impossible.
Creating — The new landscape of wireless power can spur the creation of entirely new classes of devices.
“What if I told you that in your home you’re going to have 500 to 1,000 active powered devices in your house?” Zeine asks hypothetically. “You’re going to tell me, ‘That’s crazy, because I’ll be running all day changing batteries and recharging them. Nobody’s willing to do that. Cota transforms all of that and makes that possible, and that’s where we see the trillions of devices of the Internet of Things by 2025 — for that to happen, there has to be a way to power these devices, otherwise they’re really dumb and dull devices, and you probably wouldn’t call them devices at all.”
No plugs, wires, or charging mats needed — think of it as power by Wi-Fi.
Zeine is confident that Cota will be the first practical remote wireless power technology to hit the market when it debuts in 2016, along with an announcement of the manufacturers with which Ossia has partnered. He’s also quick to differentiate it from the competition, noting that pad-based wireless chargers such as Qi and PowerMat can only power devices within one inch. (Plus, to call them “wireless” is a misnomer, he says. “Any picture of that scenario includes a wire.) TechNovator requires a special phone charging case and functions at shorter distances than Cota, and is only now on the verge of launching a Kickstarter campaign, while Ossia has already raised more than $25 million in funding.
Zeine filed the first patents for Cota in 2007, and Ossia currently has seven granted patents with around 200 inventions filed in the last 18 months. Ossia has been building working systems of Cota since 2010, and is currently working on testing the fourth generation of the system for public consumption.
Ossia will unveil its market-ready Cota technology at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this January.