Seeing everyone from frenzied business travelers to teens huddled around charging stations has become almost de rigueur at airports across the globe. Part of this milieu is the accompanying nest of wires of various shapes, sizes and colors taking up space and tethering their testy owners to often tiny shelves; a truly wireless charging station has, thus far, been an unattainable dream.
However, if Meredith Perry, the founder of uBeam, is successful, wireless charging may be closer to becoming a reality than it ever has. The premise of uBeam is that charging stations will be able to charge devices wirelessly via ultrasonic transduction—a process where power is taken from a building’s electrical system and converted into ultrasonic sound waves, which are picked up by receivers affixed to the device to-be-charged and converted back to usable energy. uBeam would charge devices at approximately the same speed as if they were plugged into an outlet. The technology’s current range of about 15 feet distinguishes it from other attempts to achieve wireless recharging, such as magnetic resonance.
After receiving over 13 million dollars in investment from financial magnates such as Mark Cuban and Marc Andreeson, uBeam has sought exclusivity deals and is reportedly in talks with Starbucks, Virgin Air, Starwood Hotels, Samsung and Apple. However, the potential application of this technology reaches beyond phones, tablets and laptops to other cordless devices such as wireless headphones, watches and hearing aids.
uBeam, which has not yet released a commercial model, has the potential to become one of the most disruptive innovations of this decade, but still requires considerable fine-tuning. Many questions remain about unlimited wireless charging through ultrasonic transduction, and early adopters will be curious about safety and cost. In particular, one has to wonder how much electricity this technology will pull from the grid, especially considering the number of devices that could simultaneously charge in high traffic venues such as hotels or coffee shops. The devices’ draw from the grid raises questions regarding cost-effectiveness and who will pay for the ability to wirelessly charge. However, travelers hoping for a future without current charging inconveniences will be waiting with bated breath for a uBeam success story.