Pi wireless charger powers up your phone from close range

Pi wireless charger powers up your phone from close range

Wireless chargers aren’t technically wireless.

The smartphone is placed on top of a charging pad, which is the one actually connected to an outlet. It’s only called wireless because the phone doesn’t need to be connected to cords or cables.

A startup called Pi would like to redefine what wireless charging is. While the technology has been around for a while, the way wireless charging works can often be a pain. For one, the user can’t really play around with their phone while it’s charging because it needs to stay on the charging pad undisturbed. Also, users need one charging pad for every device or one enormous pad to charge several devices simultaneously.

The Pi charger offers a solution. The company claims it’s the first-ever contactless wireless charging product bound for the market. Its shape is similar to a lampshade, or a traffic cone without the tip.

Like Qi wireless charging, Pi uses resonant induction, but with a special beam-forming algorithm that enables the charger to orient and direct magnetic fields around it. This essentially means that the Pi can charge devices even when it’s not touching them. Simply put the smartphones next to Pi in close range and they’ll power up.

John Macdonald and Lixin Shi demoed the device on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, and it worked.

“What’s at the heart of this is this algorithm that lets us shape a magnetic field,” Macdonald said. This algorithm was so complicated, according to Macdonald, that it would take several minutes of computing time in an i7 processor just to solve it. But Shi made it far simpler.

The Pi Charger powered up five devices on stage, one being a tablet. They began charging when brought within proximity of the Pi. For those still struggling to understand the concept, imagine the Pi Charger as a Wi-Fi router, but with extremely short coverage, and instead of distributing internet connection, it distributes power. Bringing a device within the Pi’s set range will charge it, the same as bringing a device within a router’s range will allow it to connect to Wi-Fi.

The Pi Charger can charge phones within 12 inches away in any direction. How fast charging actually is will vary by distance: if the device is right next to the Pi Charger, it will power up at full speed. The farther it is, the slower it will receive juice. Non-wireless charging devices are required to be put in magnetic cases for the whole thing to work, but wireless charging-ready devices will work just fine without them.

Pi has raised up to $3.5 million to date. The team says they haven’t ironed out key details yet, including the price. They do, however, expect to ship the Pi Charger sometime in 2018 for under $200.