Ossia and Displaydata partner to make wireless retail shelf labels

Originally posted by Kyle Wiggers, VentureBeat

DisplayData ESL Image
                                      Above: One of DisplayData's ESL Model. Image credit: DisplayData

Wireless power at a distance may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s closer to market than you might think. Ossia is among a handful of startups leading the charge, and today the company announced a partnership with Displaydata, an electronic shelf label (ESL) provider, to integrate its Cota wireless charging tech with digital price stickers.

The companies plan to demonstrate a proof of concept by the end of next year.

ESLs, for the uninitiated, are the electronic equivalent of those paper labels ubiquitous in store aisles. The advantages over print are pretty self-evident — retailers can dynamically change pricing, for example, or create custom display content that catches shoppers’ eyes.

But there’s a problem: They’re a pain in the neck to install.

“ESLs currently require batteries or wiring,” Preston Woo, VP of corporate development and business alliances at Ossia, told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “Running wires is costly, restrictive, and hard to manage. Wireless power is the ideal solution.”

Ossia sees ESLs as a sort of trojan horse into brick-and-mortar retail. Once the necessary infrastructure is in place, wirelessly charged barcode scanners, security cameras, and other internet of things (IoT) devices become an easier sell, Woo said.

“Right now, retailers don’t know how to get power to them,” he explained.

Ossia’s technology doesn’t require line-of-sight access, charging pads, or plugs. Instead, it leverages thousands of antennas embedded in transmitters that communicate with compatible transceivers. When a device attached to a transceiver runs low on power, the antennas emit hundreds of microseconds-long beacon signals that reflect off of walls, boxes, and other obstacles around them until they reach a transmitter, which triangulates the beams to pin down the transceiver’s location. Then the transmitter sends power along those paths.

Ossia says that a single transmitter can charge a phone with 1 watt at about 3 to 6 feet. (Its latest-generation prototype, the Cota Tile, can send power up to 30 feet with one unit or 50 feet with two.) In July, the company announced that it had managed to boost the performance of its 2.4GHz wireless receiver by 50 percent and revealed that it’s working on a 5.8GHz-band upgrade that will enable the use of more antennas on a same-sized transmitter.

To be clear, Ossia doesn’t manufacture devices itself. Instead, it produces reference kits; licenses its antenna designs to companies like Molex, XPNDBLS, and Japanese electronics manufacturer KDDI; and supplies a cloud-hosted management platform — the Cota Cloud — that allows operators to customize power delivery on a per-device basis. Ossia expects the first products to enter prototyping stages by the end of 2018 or early 2019.

Ossia, which is based in Bellevue, Washington, has raised more than $35 million to date.

It’s got plenty of competition. Powercast, a startup founded in 2003, has an at-a-distance wireless power system that’s available in the form of a development kit. And Energous — which VentureBeat exclusively reported has been working with Apple since 2014 — is commercializing transmitters that “can do both contact-based and non-contact-based … charging” and send power through the air to devices between 10cm and roughly 30 feet away.