2012 could be the year when Duracell Powermat finally manages to solve the chicken-and-egg dilemna associated with impelling enough momentum to a promising and innovative solution in order to achieve critical mass.
ITProPortal caught up with Stassi Anastassov, President Global Duracell - Personal Power at Procter & Gamble to get an update on the company's plans regarding the joint venture and the overarching product strategy for the rest of the year.
Duracell Powermat demoed a prototype of the Wireless Charging Card (WiCC) at Mobile World Congress back in 2012 in a Samsung Galaxy S2 smartphone and just over two weeks ago, the Power Matters Alliance, an IEEE offshoot that backs WiCC, opened its doors to new members and appointed Vint Cerf, IEEE Fellow, chief Internet evangelist for Google, as its honorary chairman.
Anastassov explained to us that while the mobile phone has evolved beyond recognition over the last 25 years, batteries still rely on chemical reactions to generate electricity and there hasn't been any major breakthrough since Lithium polymer technology took over NiMH.
This means that even devices like the new iPad have somehow to compromise on volumetric properties; you can only get more "juice" by increasing the size (and weight) of the battery. Compared to the iPad 2 for example, the new iPad has a much bigger battery which makes it thicker and heavier by 6.3 per cent and 6.8 per cent respectively.
The bigger battery (from 25Whr to 42.5Whr) was needed because of the higher resolution display (four times more pixels), the extra RAM and because the number of GPU cores was doubled. Even a cutting edge company like Apple only managed to get the energy density of the new iPad to the same level as the last iPad 2 at 0.0014 watt-hour / mm^3 which means that there was no improvement over the last one.
With thinner and leaner devices becoming the norm, the race to pack even more features and with no room for improvement, the only way to improve battery life - until the next big breakthrough - is to "look for more creative ways" as Anastassov puts it "to power life without limit" and without having to go back to bulkier batteries.
He also revealed that mobile network operators have noticed that a drop in traffic at 3pm which he attributes to an increasing number of users are either turning off 3G or their phones altogether to keep some "juice" for the late afternoon or evening.
Anastassov said that Duracell Powermat's aim is to create "an ecosystem of power stations" not unlike ATM providers which made it unnecessary to carry wads of cash around. When asked how the joint venture was going to encourage device manufacturers to evangelise the wireless solution, the president of Duracell professes technological agnosticism adding that many smartphone manufacturers have already been approached to integrate the technology in their devices.
Duracell Powermat's key message is that adding wireless charging is now easier than ever before. The wireless charging functionality could be built directly in the battery, as a WiCC card inserted by the manufacturer in the phone or available as an off the shelf after market accessory.
And Procter and Gamble, which owns Duracell, appears to be ready to back WiCC with its massive global marketing presence and deep pockets. For example, it promises a rebate on every sale of a WiCC card and claims that adding the capability should add no cost to the bill of material (by piggybacking on the unused real estate already allocated for NFC or the air gap above the battery although buying the wireless charging card itself will come at a cost).
The first cards are expected to be available in 2013 and should measure only 50mm by 35mm by 0.9 mm, comparable to a SmartMedia card at 45mm by 37mm by 0.76 mm. The card covers a relatively large surface area because it incorporates an antenna that can be used to transmit data (e.g. NFC) and power (e.g. Powermat). The card also includes a row of six leads (two for power, two for data and two for NFC) and the relevant connector is said to cost pennies to add.
A number of partners such as General Motors, Arconas and Teknion have been enlisted to kickstart the deployment of Duracell Powermat charging mats in furniture and in cars. Of interest is the fact that Qualcomm signed a non-binding Letter of Intent (LOI) with Duracell to explore the possibility of working together back in January 2011 but the semiconductor giant is notably absent from WiCC and PMA altogether.
Also of interest is another rival group, the WPC (Wireless Power Consortium), which already lists 109 members including some big hitters like Samsung, Panasonic, HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sony and many others. Getting some of these on the WiCC bandwagon will be essential for its success.
Anastassov also confirmed that Duracell Powermat is "open to and evaluating all options continuously" when asked about whether they would consider licensing the IP to other rival companies like Sanyo, Sony, Foxconn, Simplo or Dynapack International Technology.
Over the next 12 months, he promises that there will be a "stream of initiatives and products to never be out of power" and that the "portfolio will grow" hinting at a key launch in a few months in New York. Interestingly, Procter & Gamble has just announced that Duracell would be enlisted to launch a new program called "Rely on Copper to Go for the Gold" ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games of which P&G is a tier-1 sponsor.
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