13 Feb 15
Charging Over The Air: The First Trillion-Dollar Business?
Apple? Google? Sure, either of these companies could (by some projections (1, 2), in the not too distant future) reach a market cap of over $1 trillion. But are there other credible contenders? Could a company that doesn’t even exist yet win the race? Ubiquitous charging over the air, by which I mean truly wireless charging, would be a seismic revolution and represent a lucrative business opportunity on a scale as yet uncharted.
As I absently kick the many power cords under my desk, it’s hard not to love the idea of wireless power. We’ve managed to uncouple our devices in many other ways, but when it comes to charging up our batteries, we have to plug in a cable or otherwise make contact with a power source.
Maybe not for much longer. Researchers at MIT have successfully implemented what had previously been a theoretical system for delivering power via electromagnetic waves; in their tests, they lit a 60-watt lightbulb that was sitting seven feet away from its power source.
The system exploits pretty basic physics. A transmitting copper coil was attached to the power source, and a similar coil to the light bulb. The two coils resonated at 10 MHz, which led to gathered energy flowing between them – even when solid objects were placed between them.
Elsewhere, uBeam created a technology that can take electricity, convert it into sound and send that audio through the air over ultrasound. Then a receiver attached to a portable electronic device catches the sound and converts it back into electricity.
Finessing, owning and fiercely protecting the technology (by the way, guess who‘s starting to patent this stuff) is the obvious and sizable hurdle. But just imagine for a moment the scale of the opportunity. That opportunity only begins with the new generation of portable devices that would emerge to be compatible – mobile phones, tablets, laptops, cameras. Now imagine the applications in the automotive, construction, energy, healthcare and utility industries – losing wires altogether would change just about everything in the modern world.
Now consider the aftermarket opportunity for retrofitting the billions of electronic items that would benefit from charging over the air. A huge window of opportunity would open for a new generation of start-ups to upgrade existing devices for years to come; before such devices would otherwise be due an upgrade. Wireless power would quickly become the predominant power source for the majority of suitable applications. Concurrently, the race by the energy companies would begin to adopt and exploit the technology – could renewable sources seize this opportunity?
I wish Apple and Google well in their race to $1 trillion but don’t be shocked if a new power enters the fray.