uBeam is a huge step forward for wireless charging, thanks to ultrasound

Meredith Perry and uBeam

Wireless charging has been around for a few years now, but it hasn’t exactly caught on in a major way just yet. That could change thanks to uBeam, a company that’s giving wireless charging a Wi-Fi-like upgrade.

The company is called uBeam, and it was founded by Meredith Perry. As outlined in a profile published by The New York Times, Perry is a 25-year old astrobiology major at the University of Pennsylvania, and she created something that could revolutionize the way that consumers charge their devices wirelessly.

Right now, wireless charging only goes so far as making it so that you don’t have to plug anything directly into your device to charge it. You can simply set the device down on a wireless charging pad or cradle, and the device will slowly draw power from it. As soon as you pull your device away from it, though, your charging will end. Just as it would if you unplugged it.

That’s not the case for uBeam, which has developed a way to make sure that your device keeps charging, even as you walk around a room and talk on your phone:

This is the only wireless power system that allows you to be on your phone and moving around a room freely while you’re device is charging,” Ms. Perry said in an interview. “It allows for a Wi-Fi-like experience of charging; with everything else you have to be in close range of a transmitter.

To make this a reality, Perry created a technology that takes electricity and converts it to sound. It then sends that sound through the air over ultrasound. A receiver on your device, like a cellphone or other portable gadget, catches the sound and converts it back into electricity, which can subsequently charge your device.

Your phone could even be in your pocket or bag, and it would still be able to be charged, as long as you’re in range of the receiver.

On Wednesday, August 6, uBeam announced that they had taken an early-stage prototype of the device and had turned it into a fully functional prototype. The next step, then, is to create a device that’s capable of working for consumers, and building it for public release.

The uBeam charging stations will reportedly be very thing, measuring in at only 5 millimeters thick. Anyone who buys the device could be able to tack it up onto a wall, or put it somewhere else considering its low profile, and then connect the thin receiver onto their gadget to receive the signal.

One of the many real world ideas here is the possibility of shrinking the batteries in our devices, if we could have power sources everywhere. It’s no secret that battery life hasn’t changed much over the years, simply just getting bigger in most cases, so if ultrasound wireless charging could take off, and charging stations could be installed everywhere, it would indeed be one way to change things in a major way.

If wireless power is everywhere, then the size of your battery can shrink because it’s always charging.” Ms. Perry said. “You’ll never need a cord again, and you won’t need international charging adapters.

As far as a release dates goes, the company says that they’ll have a product available for purchase within the next two years. Between now and then, uBeam says they’ll be working on developing a pair of wireless charging stations: a small version, for homes and offices, and a much larger base charging station that could be used for airports, stadiums or other large-capacity locations.

Unfortunately, the implementation may come into some roadblocks due to one pretty standard element of most buildings: walls. The ultrasound signals, unlike Wi-Fi transmissions, are unable to pass through walls and continue to charge a device. Basically, that would mean a wireless charging station in every room, which could lead to issues.

While short-range wireless charging has been around for some time, the lack of adoption is not a worry for Perry and the company.

We’re going to sell directly to consumers, and we’ll sell them to restaurant chains and hotels — we are going to saturate the market with uBeam transmitters,” Ms. Perry said. “In addition to your local coffee shop saying it has free Wi-Fi, it will also say it has free uBeam.“

As it stands, uBeam is filing 18 patents with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, while simultaneously closing Series A funding. The company has already closed seed funding in total of $1.7 million from the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer; Andreesen Horowitz; and Founders Fund.

Would you be interested in using uBeam?

[via The New York Times]