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Hatem Zeine stands in front of a Cota prototype power transmitter at Ossia’s company headquarters in Redmond.

It’s been more than 12 years since Hatem Zeine first shared his crazy idea for wireless power with friends and colleagues. Back then, though, none of his peers really believed anything Zeine said.

“And your next invention is time travel, right?” they would respond.

Well, time travel isn’t quite here yet. But wireless charging — the kind that can go through walls and power devices more than 40 feet away — is coming to life at a startup just a few miles away from Microsoft’s headquarters.

Photo via Ossia.
Ossia CEO Hatem Zeine with a Cota prototype device. Photo via Ossia.

It’s in this small Redmond office where Zeine’s six-year-old company, Ossia, is quietly building technology that can charge the electronic devices we rely on more than ever today — all without cords.

“I want my 3-year-old to grow up and never know about charging devices,” Zeine, a trained physicist and former Microsoft engineer, told us last week.

Wireless charging isn’t a brand new phenomenon, but what exists today largely requires a device to be within close proximity to the charger. And that’s where Ossia’s patented technology, called “Cota,” is different.

There are two parts to Cota: A small, embeddable charger and a large, stationary charging station.

The tiny charger can be installed inside devices and sends out a low-power beacon signal to the transmitter, a charging station that mimics a large PC tower and contains thousands of smart antennas. The transmitter then can return focused streams of targeted signals to power multiple devices — from smartphones to cameras to wearables — simultaneously at a radius of 40 feet and through obstructions like walls or human bodies.

Even when a device moves around the room, Cota is able to instantly redirect those signals and send power from the charging station. It’s a solution that uses the law of physics and a little bit of imagination to work successfully.

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The top image shows a device sending out low-powered beacon signals to the charger. The bottom image shows the charger returning focused streams of targeted signals back to the device.

“I’ve always been fascinated by what you can do with physics,” Zeine said. “If you know your physics, you know that spooky things can happen — if it’s common sense, it’s not science.”

Cota’s transmitter can send about 1 watt of power, or one-third of what today’s phone chargers provide. The energy is sent over the same bands used by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so Cota can take advantage of existing antennas already embedded inside our devices, with some slight modifications.

The technology also has software, so it can tell which devices have lower power and direct signals accordingly. People will also be able to use an app to control which devices receive charging power.

Cota’s tracking beacons only use about 1/10,000th of the signal power of Wi-Fi, making the technology safe to use based on regulations set for the energy that mobile phones already emit today. Safety has always been Zeine’s number one concern with Cota, which is now in advanced stages with the FCC for regulatory approval.

“This is inherently safe,” he said.

Ossia, founded in 2008, spent five years in super stealth mode before demonstrating its wireless charging technology for the first time at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference last fall. Since then, the company has reduced the size of the Cota charging station and improved Cota’s non-line-of-site capability by up to 40 feet.

While wireless technology from the Qi interface standard to magnetic resonance have been invented, Cota is breaking new ground in terms of long-range charging to multiple devices.

cota121Though Zeine still has his fair share of naysayers — he’s even had some job applicants flat-out reject the idea of Cota during interviews  — the Jordan native believes that Ossia’s technology will unlock doors for tech companies all around the world. He compares batteries to anchors keeping designers and manufacturers from building smaller, faster and more powerful products.

“We’re trying to drag these machines to the future with an anchor preventing us from going there,” he said. “This technology will be instrumental in helping us take advantage of our devices to the max.”

Ossia, which employs 25, has raised a little more than $6 million to date from angel investors. The plan is to sell the Cota technology to device and accessory manufacturers, who can include Cota receivers in their new products. Consumers can then purchase a Cota-enabled charging station, which will sell for around $100 and hit the market sometime next year.

There’s also potential for Cota on the business side. For example, factories and retail centers that rely on wired power can save money and improve safety at the workplace with wireless power, Zeine said. There’s also numerous applications in the medical industry, too.

“This is technology that can improve our lives in many different ways more than just charging phones,” Zeine said. “We feel that we’re at the beginning of un-inventing the wire.”

Zeine said that Ossia also wants to retrofit existing battery-powered devices with the Cota technology, so that you’ll never need to purchase a double-A or 9-volt battery again.

“We want to be in every device,” Zeine said.

The vision is to be able to charge your devices anywhere at anytime, without cords. Zeine said that he hopes Cota eventually becomes as prevalent as Wi-Fi is today.

“We may not invent the next great gadget,” says Zeine. “But we will make it possible.”

Comments

  • Gideon

    This is really interesting…opening up a world of possibilities

  • Jack

    what is the efficiency of wireless charges, from first thought I think you will most likely lose more than 80% of your transmitted power to achieve 40 ft charging.

  • david abboud

    You always had bright innovative ideas. When do you think your prototype will be available commercially? Good Luck.

  • Hassan Shahin

    For those who don’t know, Hatem is a physicist. He managed to learn how to program. I was told that he could program in Assembly when he was at 10.

    Hatem built a small company in small third-world country (Jordan). Its name was “Zain Technological Applications”. Their first product was a word processor “Alef” (The first character in Arabic Alphabet) for Mac (pre Mac OSX). It was one an innovative word processor that supports Arabic when Microsoft failed (or refused) to support Arabic and Hebrew in its Office Mac suite. So he created another Excel-like product “Seen” (Another character in the Arabic Alphabet) that supports Arabic.

    Hatem had many crazy ideas. I recall that he wanted to create a game for a Ferrari racing car where the car will move ON the ceiling rather than floor. I heard about this wireless idea in 1998 when I joined his company as the localization manager for Mac OS. Though I studied Physics as well, it didn’t click though by then.

    Now, as Hatem has “realized” his idea, it is amazing how he moved form a small software producer , becoming a partner in a more bigger company (eStarta), joined Microsoft, and now building this new technology.

    I wish him all the luck he needs.

  • Douglas Hayse

    Nikola Tesla Did this a long time ago. 10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943 our education systems suck.

  • Wireless Efficiency

    Talk about transmit efficiency, normally, take WPC Qi standard for example, we testing on QiPack wireless portable charger, the distance is 5mm and transmit efficiency is 75% by wireless charging and 85% by USB cable charging.

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