Wireless Technologies

Magnetic resonance wireless charging: Fact or fiction?

This is a contributed piece by Sanjay Gupta, VP of Product Management and Platforms, WiTricity


Think for a moment of all the electronic devices you use every day: from your mobile phone and laptop, to your wearable fitness tracker and potentially your electric vehicle. Devices are becoming electrified. And we expect those devices to be as untethered and mobile as we are, relying on them to be charged and available to use at all times. But we continue to live anxiously, obsessing about the remaining charge in our device and if the next place we’re jetting off to will have a plug.

Charging should be an autonomous act, occurring seamlessly and without any conscious human intervention while we live our fast-paced lives. Luckily, because of technology that allows wireless charging, the physical act of plugging-in will soon be a thing of distant memory.

Though wireless charging in general is not a new concept (having been around for more than a decade), there are so many variations in charging technologies that many are left confused as to where exactly the future lies. While products with wireless charging enabled by magnetic resonance technology are hitting the market this year, magnetic resonance is misunderstood in many ways: it’s time to set the record straight on what is fact and what is fiction.


Fiction: All wireless charging technologies are the same

Fact: More than ten years ago, the first generation of wireless charging, inductive technology, opened up consumers’ eyes to what wireless charging might someday be. Think about your electric toothbrush or the Samsung Galaxy 6S: they are “wireless” yet offer a less-than-ideal user experience as they require the devices to be in direct contact with the source, and the technology is limited to low power transfer. RF energy harvesting was then buzzed about, yet is still in ideation stage: it can enable the transfer of energy over large distances, something inductive cannot do, but it is inefficient as it charges devices slowly.

Magnetic resonance then entered the arena with the ability to wirelessly charge over a distance, through materials – skin, water, granite, you name it – and more than one device at one given time. It is also extremely efficient and can charge high-powered devices. These qualities opened the door to endless applications: from charging a pacemaker through the skin (eliminating the need to replace a battery via surgery), to drilling for longer periods of time under the ocean, to charging an autonomous, electrified car. Superior user experience and scalable power delivery makes magnetic resonance a goldmine of applications.


Fiction: Products with magnetic resonance are unsafe and heat up metal

Fact: Perhaps because magnetic resonance delivers energy over mid-range distances, consumers assume they are being exposed to potentially unsafe electromagnetic fields; however, none of this is true. When well-engineered, the electric and magnetic fields of a magnetic resonance systems are kept below established human safety limits specified by global regulatory bodies like the FCC and ICNIRP. These are the same standards groups that regulate all electromagnetic consumer devices including wireless routers, Bluetooth, radio transmitters and cell phones.

Another common misconception is that magnetic resonance cannot be used in products built with a metal exterior, or products that have a metal case surrounding it (like a smartphone cover), because it will cause the metal to heat up. However, the Airfuel Alliance – which is the wireless charging standards body for the consumer electronics industry that supports magnetic resonance – has defined this standard to ensure the most common metallic objects, like coins and car keys, will not heat up by employing electromagnetic waves at 6.78MHz. This not only means that magnetic resonance is safe, but that engineers and consumers are not limited to product design and have the freedom to creatively develop aesthetically pleasing form factors.


Fiction: Magnetic resonance can only charge smartphones and laptops

Fact: While this may be true for other wireless charging technologies like inductive or RF, magnetic resonance is scalable and efficient, so can charge low-to-high power devices. For example, magnetic resonance has the capability to send 11 kW of power to wirelessly charge an electric vehicle. It can also enable wireless power over distance for other high-powered, electrified applications, like military, medical and industrial equipment.


Fiction: Products with magnetic resonance are years away from entering my home

Fact: Fortunately, wireless power is here. While the wireless charging pioneers have been quiet over the past few years, products have been in development and will be launching out of stealth mode in 2017. The Dell Latitude 7285 will debut this spring as the industry’s first 2-in-1 notebook enabled by magnetic resonance and the first, major step toward a wireless workspace. In the automotive space, the SAE – the automotive standards group – earlier this year agreed on a standard for wireless charging of electric vehicles, further prompting automakers and suppliers to incorporate the technology into future cars. GM, Toyota and Nissan are all embedding magnetic resonance into their next iteration of electric vehicles, some set to hit the roads this year.


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