by Aishwarya Vijay, Grand View Research, Inc.
If you count the number of power cords you come across each day, right from your coffeemaker in the morning to plugging in your smartphone at the end of the day, the number could well be in the double digits. What would it be like to live a cordless life?
Although wireless charging has been around since the latter half of the 19th century, it was – for the longest time – not used in many practical applications, barring perhaps a few electric toothbrush models. Today, however, the technology has made inroads in a number of industries such as automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, and consumer electronics. The promise of improved mobility, combined with advancements in Internet of Things (IoT) devices, has made wireless charging a technology that looks to cut the cables of everything from laptops and smartphones to cars and kitchen appliances.
Putting the ‘mobile’ in mobile devices
Mobile device wireless chargers came into existence a little over six years ago, wherein users placed smartphones on a pad in a specific position to charge. The Nokia 920 was reportedly the first commercially sold smartphone with a built-in wireless charging capability. That was in September 2012. The Google Nexus 4, as well as Samsung’s Galaxy S line of smartphones, followed suit. The most recent smartphones to incorporate this technology are Apple’s iPhone8 and iPhone X. These two models, along with the iPhone 8 Plus, are compatible with the Qi standard. And although the phones are not shipped with wireless chargers, third-party charging pads work perfectly with these phones.
Apple is presently working on devising its own charging pad called AirPower, which promises to charge an iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch simultaneously. Not only that, the company claims the devices can communicate with each other to manage power consumption. The device, which was unveiled at the iPhone X event held in September 2017, marks the tech giant’s foray into wireless charging. With stalwarts like Apple venturing into the industry, players are looking to offer faster, long-range charging capabilities in more homes, coffee shops, restaurants, and cars.
The upcoming OnePlus 6 is also speculated to arrive with a wireless charging feature. Although the OnePlus 5T, which was introduced last year, did not embrace the technology, the company might reconsider the possibility. Rumors about this feature stem from the upcoming smartphone’s glass back, which is a change from the usual metal body.
Keeping up with changing auto trends
The trend of electric vehicles (EV) and hybrid vehicles has been growing at a rapid pace in recent years, and as more and more individuals opt for them, the key challenge that arises is upgrading EV charging infrastructure to support this heightened demand. The discussion of incorporating wireless charging technology in cars is mushrooming around the world, right from commuter vehicles to luxury electric sedans. The hassle and limitations of cords has been identified as one of the major barriers restricting the adoption of electric vehicles. Wireless charging, however, promises to make the EV market cleaner, more futuristic, and more convenient.
The technology was in the spotlight at the last Paris Motor Show, with a number of bigwigs such as Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen hinting at models featuring inductive charging. Porsche and Audi have both been vocal about their intent to turn to inductive charging. Mercedes’ 2017 S550e offers a built-in wireless charging option; the car can simply park over a charging pad, and begin charging even more efficiently than it would had it been plugged in.
The technology used by the S550e is by WiTricity, an industry leader in wireless power transfer over distance. Named by Bloomberg as a 2018 New Energy Pioneer, the company has been driving the future of clean transportation and has been a game-changer when it comes to wireless EV charging. Several Tier 1 automobile suppliers and automakers like Toyota, Nissan, GM, and Mercedes now have access to the patented MIT technology to develop and support efficient and user-friendly wireless charging methods.
Catering to patient care and comfort
The advent of wearable technology in healthcare has no doubt brought with it a host of benefits. But as medical devices become smaller and more capable, the need arises to find easy and efficient solutions to keep them powered. Wireless energy transfer can be a game changer for medicine, and there are vast opportunities in the sector to go unplugged. Active lifestyles and soaring uptake of smart fitness devices make it difficult for patients and individuals to stay in proximity to a fixed source of power at all times. Also, the task of charging such wearable devices, especially for the elderly, can be quite burdensome.
Along with being a pioneer in the automotive sector, WiTricity has also made incredible strides in the healthcare sector, collaborating with providers such as Thoratec and Greatbatch to integrate wireless charging technology with various wearable medical devices.
Humavox, an Israeli startup has been developing unique RF-based wireless charging solutions for wearables used in healthcare as well as consumer electronics. Its wireless charging platform ETERNA can be seamlessly integrated into the smallest of devices, such as the NEST charging station. Developed primarily for users of hearing aids, this convenient and intuitive “box” allows users to simply “drop and charge” the device without the hassle of cords or batteries.
The market for wireless charging is slated to reach a whopping USD 22.25 billion by 2022, states Grand View Research, fueled primarily by the soaring need for hassle-free charging options. Rising preference for and ability and inclination to spend on high-quality consumer electronics has also propelled the industry. While healthcare and military are rapidly emerging as key end users of this technology, consumer electronics and automobiles continue to be the leading revenue generators. Heavy investments by prominent manufacturers, academic institutes, and government bodies in the research and development of efficient and affordable wireless charging solutions is likely to be a key factor boosting the market.
Considering the thriving consumer electronics industry in Asia Pacific, the region is a lucrative investment opportunity for players. Growing adoption of and demand for smartphones, laptops, and wearables will continue to fuel the need wireless charging platforms. North America, a leading contender in the industry, is driven by U.S.’s strong contribution in terms of vendor landscape. Africa and Latin America are relatively untapped markets and present new avenues for growth.