True wireless power transmission, without cables or charging mats, has been a white whale for the technology industry for decades. But a new startup born from the California Institute of Technology says it has discovered how to carry it out in a way that is small, cheap and efficient enough to be marketed. Called Guru, the company has built a wireless charging system that transmits electricity using high-frequency radio waves, specifically the variety of millimeter waves (mmWave) that supports the burgeoning 5G cell networks in the United States.
Next week at CES, Guru will present three prototypes of cargo products that it wants to develop in association with electronic product manufacturers, but the company gave The edge An early look at technology and explained how it works. The three prototypes include a desktop charging system that can wirelessly charge virtually any device within a few feet, a room-scale version the size of a ceiling plate that has a significantly greater range, and a robot similar to Roomba designed to move. a large space and load small and smart home-style devices such as cameras and IoT sensors.
“The idea of sending power away is not new. Nikola Tesla had the same idea that energy should be sent wirelessly, "says co-founder and CEO Florian Bohn, who previously founded a cell phone component company called Axiom Semiconductor and worked on a CalTech initiative to harness solar energy and transmit it to Earth using microwaves. "What makes us different is that we are using very advanced technology, as well as the design of our system and the mmWave technology that allows us to send energy in a controlled, safe and effective way."
And Bohn's point is important. The transmission of wireless energy, as a concept, is more than a century old, and scientists have shown that it really works, thanks to experiments carried out in recent decades that have used more sophisticated radio technology. For the technology industry, wireless wireless charging for consumer devices has also been working for some time.
A number of new companies tried and failed to get the idea off the ground, especially uBeam, based in New York, a problematic company that has been trying to use ultrasonic waves for wireless power transmission and repeatedly failed to meet its deadlines to deliver a product in functioning. Apple also recently filed a patent for this exact technology, and several other new companies have come to CES in previous years or plan to attend this year's program to show that they have a functional version of the idea.
But why should we take Guru seriously? According to Bohn, the company has two advantages. One is that it uses mmWave, which are very high frequency radio waves that allow high precision. That way, Guru's charger can identify the device that needs to be charged and send a localized beam of radio waves that transmit electricity, much higher than low frequency waves.
But the real innovation that Guru says was a pioneer is something the company calls Smart RF Lensing. It is a patented technology that Bohn co-founder Ali Hajimiri developed at CalTech together with Kaushik Sengupta of Princeton University that involves controlling the direction and number of beams that are transmitted.
Indeed, Smart RF Lensing allows Guru to send multiple beams of energy even to small receivers, which is what allows transmission devices to be reduced enough to fit on their desk or mounted on the wall. It also allows the Guru system to charge devices as small as cell phones and even smaller IoT and smart home devices.
"The core technology behind all these applications is fundamentally the same thing: just different scales, power levels and ranges," says Bohn. “One of our strengths as a company is that our technology has this versatility of use: short distances of less power to very large power over long distances. The differences are the size and cost point of the final product. "
But does it really work? I saw a live video chat demonstration of the Guru system in action, and it worked as advertised. A member of the Guru team showed the desktop system, which looks like a kind of quite large heating lamp, activates a light bulb that is a few meters away. When the employee put his hand between the two objects, the bulb went out. The same happened with the room-scale charger and the one similar to Roomba, which moved to a light switch and activated it automatically once it was close enough. Guru is emphasizing that the use case is not the lighting but the battery charge. But the light switches offer significant evidence that the system is really functional.
Guru visualizes a system in which he can control when the load beams are active and turn them off manually when they encounter any interference, either through an application or by physically moving the device so that there is something in between. For example, picking up your phone and keeping it in your pocket. Bohn emphasizes that the beams are perfectly safe to travel through humans and can do so through physical surfaces in most cases, but Guru wants users to be able to control this element of the system themselves. “The radio waves themselves are inherently non-ionizing. It is very directed. If your device is on and you are sitting nearby, it has almost zero exposure, "says Bohn." Like all radio devices, we are going through the same regulatory approval process. "
For now, you still need physical receivers for a device to be compatible with the Guru charging system, since the technology is not integrated into any existing consumer electronic device. That means that for smartphones, you would need to place a small rectangular receiver on the back of the phone. Guru says he is working on making even smaller receivers for smart home appliances. Bohn also says that charging rates are now slower than he would get with a modern USB-C power block and more in line with a slower Qi wireless charger. But that could also improve over time.
Guru's success will depend on more than just the loading times and the size of the receiver. The way in which the company brings its technology to consumers will be an important factor. Bohn says that Guru is in talks with manufacturers of consumer electronics products about partnerships, as well as with partners in warehouse and retail technology about the commercial use of their wireless power system. It is also in talks with companies about the license of its technology to be incorporated into new products in the future.
The way your physical products take shape will determine if Guru's bold vision for easy, efficient, cost-effective and wireless wireless charging becomes reality or if it becomes another failed attempt at an ancient idea. Another factor is whether the system will actually end up working better than the existing Qi plug-in charging and charging options, which work perfectly well if you agree to keep the cables and manually insert them into your devices or keep a charging mat nearby. Overcoming the status quo will be Guru's most important obstacle, and it is an open question if any company, let alone a startup, can pressure consumers to change behavior that is rooted in how we use technology today.
But Guru's vision is a bit broader than simply removing wires. Bohn and his co-founders are confident that, if done correctly, a system suitable for wireless power transmission could change not only how we plan to keep the devices charged and turned on at all times, but also the types of devices we end up using and what these devices are used for Guru is imagining a world in which he can keep all kinds of battery-powered devices, large and small, throughout his home or in every corner of an office, store or warehouse without worrying about where they get power or how long it lasts with a single load This is because power will flow through the air at all times to keep everything full, just as Tesla theorized more than 120 years ago.
"Most of the volume of your device is in fact battery," says Hajimiri. “The reason is that it has to last you a long time. But once the load is omnipresent, it could change everything. "