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.
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.
“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.
Though 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.”