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CES 2020: Wireless charging is about to become a lot less finicky

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The Nomad Base Station Pro.


Nomad

The first time I attended the International Consumer Electronics Show, in 2010, I remember reaching the top of the escalator and seeing a giant display just outside the showroom for the Qi wireless charging standard. There were countless devices placed on wireless charging devices, and signs promising a future without wired charging.

The futuristic promise of wireless charging, at least when it was first unveiled, was the ability to place a device on a desk or table, and a couple of hours later, the battery would be fully charged.

In some ways, that promise has been realized, albeit in a more rudimentary form. We can’t simply place our phone on just any surface, but instead, we’re limited to small pads that handle one, two, or three devices at the same time.

But, the catch is, you have to line up the wireless charging coil in your phone with the wireless charging coil in the pad to charge your device. The process can be very finicky, especially when you start using wireless charging pads that offer multiple-device charging with multiple coils. I’ve woken up countless times with a phone that’s only partially charged because I bumped my dresser or my phone vibrated from an incoming alert and moved just enough that the charging coils lost their connection.

Apple’s now-canceled AirPower wireless charging pad looked to solve some of these problems by allowing users to place an iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch anywhere on the device to charge. Ultimately, Apple canceled AirPower in March 2019, over a year after it was announced, citing the product didn’t meet the company’s high standards. 

It’s a mystery as to why Apple wasn’t able to bring AirPower to market, with speculation running from the Apple Watch being too big of a hurdle, to heat management being the culprit.

However, a relatively new company with a small team is poised to change wireless charging starting this year. Actually, you may already know about Aira — founders Eric Goodchild and Jake Slatnick appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in October 2019 and struck a deal with three sharks. (If you didn’t catch the episode, it’s 22 minutes into the third episode of season 11.) 

Aira also recently announced the addition of Shawn Dougherty as an investor and board member. Dougherty co-founded Mophie, a company known for its battery cases and wireless chargers.

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Aira’s board has the honeycomb-like pattern on it. 


Nomad

Nomad also recently announced its Base Station Pro wireless charging solution, which is the first device I know of to license Aira’s FreePower technology. 

That technology is two years in the making and leverages software and hardware to create a free position wireless charging surface. Meaning, you can place a Qi-compatible phone anywhere on a FreePower device, and it will begin charging. You don’t have to worry about lining up the coils or finding the sweet spot.

Just put your phone or wireless earbuds case on a FreePower device, and it will start charging. At launch, Aira’s first product will support charging up to three different devices all at the same time with a design that incorporates 18 coils managed by firmware and custom algorithms. Aira isn’t locked into a single size or design. The FreePower surface can be made bigger to accommodate more or larger devices, or smaller for charging a single device by adding or removing coils.

Aira plans to license its FreePower technology, with Nomad being just the first publicly announced partnership. Nomad hasn’t announced pricing for the Base Station Pro, but it did tell me that it expects the price to be over $150.

It’s expensive tech, but if it works as advertised, it will transform how we view wireless charging. And as phone makers continue to experiment with removing wired connections, like a charging port, wireless charging will become a daily routine that should be frustration-free.

I recently spoke to Aira’s Goodchild, Slatnick, and Dougherty, and asked the question on everyone’s mind: How did they solve a problem that Apple couldn’t? It’s an unfair question, I admit. Nobody outside of the team at Apple that worked on AirPower knows what went wrong. Nobody from Aira wanted to speculate about what went wrong, and I don’t blame them.

While it may be years before we have answers about AirPower, one thing is clear: Aira and Nomad are excited about the future of wireless charging thanks to FreePower. The two companies have been working together for over a year now, testing and refining the final product and ensuring FreePower can handle various edge cases.

There’s still some work to be done. Nomad isn’t ready to announce an availability date as both companies work together to finalize the Base Station Pro. Any potential delays will only cause disappointment and frustration, as well as rekindle disappointing AirPower memories.

I still long for the day when I can walk into my office, plop my pocket full of gadgets on my desk, and watch as each one lights up as it begins charging. And with Aira’s FreePower, it appears that reality is closer than ever.


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