PowerbyProxi pushes wireless power frontiers

A standards war is not deterring PowerbyProxi's engineering team in their quest to displace the humble power plug.

There could be few disruptions bigger than changing the way we access electricity.

If that was your aim, you couldn't find a better place to start than by displacing the humble power plug, a device invented and patented by Harvey Hubbell way back in 1904.

Doing just that, and much more, is the aim New Zealand engineering company PowerbyProxi, which exhibited a series of resonant wireless charging concepts at Computex 2014 this week.

Greg Cross

These included an industry first, a 7.5W, highly resonant charger pad for devices such as smartphones and phablets. That's a notable advance on both many wall charging units, which offer 5W, and on other wireless power efforts to date.

The solution offers multi-device charging and full spatial freedom and is expandable to power tablets up to 15W. 

Greg Cross, PowerbyProxi's CEO, demonstrated that and other technologies such as multi-device "bowl" chargers to ZDNet.com at the company's Auckland headquarters yesterday.

Bowl-type chargers are needed for wearable technologies and for devices powered by the likes of AA batteries because theses do not sit easily on a flat surface.

PowerbyProxi has developed wireless rechargable AA batteries in association with a company Cross would not name, but describes as one of the world's largest battery manufacturers.

That would mean household items such as TV remote controls could join smartphones and watches on the bowl.

Cross says 30 billion batteries are produced every year, with many ending up in landfill. Less than 10% of batteries in use are rechargable.

PowerbyProxi claims over 220 patents in what is inevitably becoming a highly contested space. In that last year it has grown from 20 to over 70 staff.

While the company received $4 million in investment from smart phone and consumer device giant Samsung last year, it is also planning a $30 million to $40 million capital raising for the second half of 2014 to fund growth, including opening offices in Taiwan and Texas.

The 100mm bowl charger

Cross would not be drawn on the form that capital raising would take, but said he is talking to investment banks about a possible listing and also to VCs and other parties.

At Computex, PowerbyProxi also demonstrated a wireless charging pad for mobile devices enabling charging at up to 30mm vertical distance, allowing charging capabilities to be integrated into locations such as restaurants and hotels, as well as into furniture and countertops.

Devices can be charged through materials such as wood, plastic and composites with full spatial freedom.

PowerbyProxi was formed out of IP developed over 25 years at the University of Auckland under professor John Boys. Co-founder Fady Mishriki began working in the area under the supervision of Professor Patrick Yu.

Cross says the company has licensed 160 patents from the University and added 60 of its own since it was founded. PowerbyProxi tends to focus its own research on short and medium term horizons while long term projects are contracted to the university.

Initially the company focused on industrial applications and has delivered many of these for heavy engineering clients including John Deere and the wind generation industry. Opportunities in that space remain huge, including changing the way electricity is transmitted around vehicles and their components, Cross says.

But as with any promising new field, turf wars have erupted.

Cross said while there is a standards battle going on between two different consortia, the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and A4WP, PowerbyProxi is prepared to build applications for both. It is, however, an influential member of WPC.

WPC transmits its power at very low frequencies between 100 and 300kHz, he says, while A4WP favours higher frequencies around 6.78MHz. Qualcomm is a leading force in A4WP.

"Absolutely, Qualcomm would want A4WP to become the standard," Cross says.

Most people in the industry would like to see a single standard, he says.

"I believe we can build the best technology no matter which standard wins."