updated 11:55 pm EDT, Thu April 2, 2009
Qualcomm eZone charging
Qualcomm at CTIA demonstrated its upcoming eZone system that will provide wireless charging across a wide range of devices from a variety of manufacturers. The technology utilizes near-field magnetic resonance to eliminate the need for a direct electrical contact. Devices can also be placed anywhere on the charging pad, regardless of positioning. A relatively small size area will simultaneously charge several batteries.
The use of near-field magnetic resonance provides several advantages over other wireless charging technologies. A coil is contained in the charging base, creating a magnetic field, while small coils are built into each device. The technology preview showed cellphones with an attachment similar in appearance to an extended battery. Ultimately the small coils could be molded into plastic housings, eliminating the need for to attach an external component.
Magnetic resonance offers several potential advantages over other wireless charging technologies. The devices do not need to establish direct electrical contact. A cellphone could also be charged upside down, sideways or standing upright. Instead of requiring perfect alignment, as with inductive coupling, a user could simply toss cellphones, digital cameras or Bluetooth headsets anywhere on the surface.
If a set of keys, some change and a wallet get thrown on the surface along with an iPod, the stray items will not affect charging and any magnetic-strip cards will not be affected. One current drawback to magnetic resonance, however, is the interference cause by metal between the base coil and the charging coil. For example, a cellphone with a stainless steel housing would not charge properly if the antenna was contained amongst the internal components, although users could still add an external accessory.
Placing eZone on metal tables could could also prove troublesome, as a large amount of metal below the base coil would work almost like a ground and prevent the devices from charging.
Electronista asked the Qualcomm representatives about the efficiency of the technology. In the prototype stages, the eZone base runs at an efficiency of roughly 40 percent, but 50 percent to 60 percent should be attainable before a public launch. While the numbers are not outstanding, the charger would be comparable to most standard, wired systems that are currently in use.
Talk of magnetic fields quickly lead to questions regarding safety from radiation. The Qualcomm representatives noted that the engineers intentionally used antenna designs that would be considered terribly inefficient by normal standards. Instead of beaming radiation across far distances, the eZone coils are only effective across a short distance.
The near-field technology is claimed to offer improved efficiency and a lower specific adsorption rate (ASR) compared to far-field resonance. Qualcomm has allegedly worked very closely with the FCC to gain insight and ensure the system meets ASR guidelines. Even at the prototype stage, eZone falls well below the acceptable ASR limits.
The most likely product to arrive first would be a home base that can sit on a table and provides a rectangular, slightly curved form factor. The base coils may also find their way into laptop lids or vehicles. Along with cellphones, the charging system would work with GPS devices, video cameras, wireless mice or keyboards, remote controls or portable media players.
Devices can still take calls or communicate via Wi-Fi while charging, leading to several other ideas including a memory board that automatically offloads images or video from digital cameras or cellphones. The content could be routed directly to an adjacent digital picture frame for viewing while the devices continue to charge.
eZone is still considered just a "research project", so Qualcomm could not provide specific details on pricing or anticipated launch dates. The company did appear serious about continuing development.