Xiaomi Says Its New Product Can Charge a Phone From Across the Room

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Smartphone charging technology has improved dramatically in the last few years with some phones sucking down 65W of power or more. Xiaomi has been one of the companies to push both wired and wireless charging speeds, and now it says you don’t need wires at all. The company’s Mi Air Charge technology can allegedly charge your phone from a distance even while it’s in your pocket. Or so Xiaomi claims — we don’t know for sure because Mi Air Charge is just a tech demo right now.  

Many of the devices we use on a daily basis are limited because of battery capacity. So, the ability to remotely power things without wires could be a transformative technology. Various research teams have experimented with wireless power, but it’s never been practical due to low efficiency and potential hazards for nearby people. Xiaomi developed Mi Air Charge internally, and it claims to have addressed these issues. 

As you can see in the video below, the Mi Air Charge base station is enormous, roughly the size of a large desktop PC tower. There are 144 antennas inside that operate on millimeter wave technology (mmWave), which is the same part of the spectrum where some 5G networks operate. However, Xiaomi is transmitting power instead of data. 

Phones will need a special mmWave module to work with Mi Air Charge, featuring a beacon antenna and an array to collect all those mmWave signals. The beacon helps the base station locate your phone in space, and the 14 antennas in the receiver array convert mmWave signals into power by running them through a rectifier circuit. 

Xiaomi says the end result is a 5W charging rate, which is much slower than all of today’s wired methods. Still, it’s supposed to work at a range of several meters, and obstacles allegedly don’t interfere with the process. 

There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about Mi Air Charge, though. For one, mmWave signals are extremely finicky — they don’t usually pass through obstacles very well, which is why Verizon’s mmWave 5G doesn’t work indoors. The transmitter is probably also using much, much more than 5W of power to charge your phone at that meager rate. Plus, the Mi Air Charge unit is sure to be extremely expensive with an array of 144 mmWave antennas. 

Even though there are numerous reasons this probably isn’t as cool as it seems at first, it’s something we should all want to exist. Imagine if you never had to think about recharging your phone. You could even have devices that didn’t need batteries — they would just connect to your wireless power grid. For now, it’s all science fiction.

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January 29, 2021
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