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Pi aims to extend wireless charging
September 24, 2017, 4:00 pm

Wireless charging is not something new, it has been around for a while. But wireless charging is still pretty limited, particularly in terms of where your device can be while pulling a charge from the wireless charger. Generally the wireless charger is a pad on which your device has to sit in order to be charged; lift your phone a few centimeters above the pad and the charging stops.

Pi, a company that wants to change this limitation of wireless chargers is building a device —aptly named Pi Charger — that they say can charge multiple devices within about 30cm in any direction. It is not the full-room charging concept that other companies have spent years trying to tackle, but it provides a good bit more flexibility over a pad.

The team says they are using resonant induction — the same concept that powers many other wireless charging devices — but their secret sauce is a beam-forming algorithm that lets them safely direct a magnetic field to wherever the device to be charged is sitting.

According to Pi’s co-founder John Macdonald, “Shaping magnetic field is an old idea but it was complicated process that was time intensive. What my co-founder Lixin did was to reduce this process through matrices to where you could get an optimal solution in just two clock cycles on a simple microcontroller.”

The device can charge from a distance of 30cm in any direction, above, below or to the sides. Also, the speed, with which it can charge devices, depends on the distance from the base unit; right next to the device, it charges at full speed. The further the device is from the Pi, the slower it is.

The name ‘Pi’ is a nod to both co-founders’ alma mater, MIT. The school celebrates Pi in a number of ways, including announcing admissions on Pi Day (March 14th — or 3/14); given that they spun the project out of an MIT lab, it only made sense to continue the tradition.

The company began its life in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, otherwise known as CSAIL. After its founders met by chance in a class they decided to work out a deal with the school to turn Lixin’s work into a commercial project.

The company is also building phone cases for the sake of backwards compatibility, but in future when most mobile phones begin to adopt wireless charging this will no longer be a necessity. Pi’s team says they haven’t settled on an exact price for their charger yet, but they expect it to ship for under $200 sometime in 2018.

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