Going Wireless

For more than a decade, Bellevue-based Ossia has been working to develop the first technology that can wirelessly charge devices at a distance.

Originally posted in 425Business

In 2008, physicist and technologist Hatem Zeine launched a small startup called Ossia with a specific vision: to create a technology that in many ways behaves like the WiFi technology we all use. But instead of a router providing uninterrupted wireless internet to devices, Zeine’s idea was to build a transmitter that keeps a wide variety of devices constantly charged. 

“We’re the only company that can power multiple devices at a long distance (with a signal that bounces off walls and objects while safely avoiding people),” explained Ossia CEO Mario Obeidat, who joined Zeine in 2017, taking over as CEO so that Zeine could have more time to invent. “You don’t need direct line of sight, even when a device is on the move — Cota technology has the capability to continually track the device. No one else in the world has been able to do that.”

The Cota technology Obeidat is referring to is the charging equivalent to WiFi, involving a transmitter that can safely connect with electronic devices — phones, computers, anything powered by a battery, and more — at a distance. Because Cota is a new technology, Ossia has been working closely with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to gain authorization for different parts of the technology. Thus far, two elements have been approved to be sold and marketed in the United States — Cota Real Wireless Power (the transmitter and receiver that make wireless power possible) and the Cota Forever Tracker. 

The process of working closely with the FCC, Ossia Vice President of Marketing Jen Grenz said, has been about setting a foundation so that, when Cota is integrated into products down the line, the approval process is a simple one.

“We’re establishing test criteria and working together in constant dialogue about how the technology is developing,” Grenz said. “We’re establishing a relationship with the FCC so that when our (manufacturing) partners come to them and say they’d like to go to market with a product, that product can be approved quickly.”

These manufacturing partners — many of which are large companies that Ossia cannot yet name — will be responsible for making the products that optimize Cota for consumer use. One partnership announced in January with Spigen, a U.S.-based mobile phone accessory manufacturer, promises the development of a phone case that would act as a receiver for the power sent by a Cota transmitter.

“Back to the WiFi analogy: When WiFi first came out, we all had to stick these little things into our computers to get it — like an antenna stick before the antenna was built into the computer itself,” Grenz said. “This phone case is an example of a product that acts the same way: It’s an intermediate step to allow devices, like phones, to receive wireless power before that chip eventually just gets built into the phone.” 

Another intermediary step, Grenz said, is the Cota Forever Battery: a seemingly ordinary AA battery that has a Cota chip instead of the lithium ion of a standard battery. If the battery is within 40 feet of a paired Cota transmitter, it remains charged forever, eliminating any need to replace batteries. 

“To think that we’re just going to keep putting more and more chemicals from batteries into the environment is problematic,” Obeidat said. “When you think about factory automation, or retail, there are so many batteries, and they have to be changed constantly.” 

If Cota were to become ubiquitous in the way that Ossia anticipates it will, the Forever Battery would disrupt this cycle. And once the value of such a product becomes apparent, Grenz said, manufacturing companies will begin to just build them into new devices they release.

“In the next five or six years, there will probably be devices (like TV remotes or smoke detectors) rolled out with (Cota technology) already integrated, so there won’t be any batteries at all,” she said. 

Ossia has been set on 2020 as the year when certain products will first become available in specific markets. Hold off on donating all your phone and computer chargers, however: Grenz said that the 2020 marker mostly will pertain to enterprise and businesses and that it will “be a couple years before you’re actually putting Cota in your living room.” 

“The Forever Tracker is a great example of what will be on the market in 2020,” Grenz said. The Forever Tracker, to be manufactured by Xirgo Technologies and implemented by Walmart, is distributed on semi-trucks and the like so devices tracking merchandise between distribution centers don’t need to be charged. 

This seemingly innocuous use of Cota — which in reality saves a great deal of time, energy, and money — is just one of many “endless applications” of Cota technology, according to Obeidat. Zeine, now CTO of Ossia, is already dreaming up ideas for 10 years down the line — ideas, Obeidat said, that sound like science fiction. 

Allusions made by Grenz about what this might one day look like confirm this assessment. 

“We think (transmitters) will come in all different forms,” she said. “Maybe they’ll be embedded into the dashboard of your car, or in the glass of a window. Maybe they’ll be in the soundbar of your TV. We’ve put a lot of research into getting more power, more distance, and getting the transmitter, the receiver, and the cloud component to work at their most optimum efficiencies. Every time we have a new breakthrough, we hand that to our partners so they can incorporate it into new products.”