Who’s who in wireless power?

In recent years, we’ve managed to cut just about every cable from our gadgets –  bluetooth used the airwaves to liberate our keyboards and mice, WiFi brought us high-spreed data at home and 3G covered everywhere else. Even the information sent from a computer to its monitor can now be transferred wirelessly.

So what prevents us from living as a cable-less nomad, strolling through life, untethered by a mass of knotted cables (usually found under a desk, covered in dust)? You probably know all-too-well: the power cord.

However, like Alexander the Great cutting through the Gordian Knot, four companies believe they can slice through the burden that ties us to our plug sockets and become the king of wireless power: eCoupled, Powermat, Wild Charge and PowerBeam.

The first player, eCoupled, comes from Fulton Innovation, who have partnered with major companies including Texas Instruments, Motorola, Nokia, RIM, Energizer and Duracel to form Qi – a wireless power consortium consisting of 27 members.

Their device, which consist of an external charging pad and a battery pack which fits inside gadgets, were shown to power anything from a mobile phone, to a laptop computer, to a power drill – all at 70% efficiency.

While the size of the instruments they can power is impressive, there is no doubt that green enthusiasts will be complaining about that lower efficiency percentage, and those 27 members are missing some major names such as Apple, who appear to have shown no interest in the technology at all.

This lack of commitment by some big players leaves hope for eCoupled’s most similar rival, Powermat. The device uses the same kind of technology to Fulton’s product, which consists of a coil of wire in a charging pad and another in the device, through which electricity is transmitted via a magnetic field – a process called ‘near field induction’. Fulton provide an explanation of the technology here. Unfortunately, the two companies products are entirely and frustratingly incompatible.

However, unlike Fulton, Powermat has already launched retail versions of its product and is beginning a big marketing push, creating its own Powermat-compatible battery packs for popular mobile phones.

Wild Charge are attempting to solve the problem in a slightly lower-tech way than the previous two, by still using physical contact. Small sleeves with metal contacts are fitted over devices, such as mobile phones and home-entertainment console controllers, which are then placed on a pad with similar contacts, and the power flows through.

The final, and probably most exciting offering, comes from PowerBeam, who intend to beam electricity through a laser to power picture frames and wireless speakers.  Cool? Yes. Terrifying? Slightly.

While it is always difficult to predict a winner from new, emerging technologies, usually the guy with the strongest friends wins. My advice? Invest in eCoupled, just as most of the big-boys seem to have.