Researchers Develop Universally Compatible Wireless Charger

Researchers in the electrical and computer engineering department recently developed wireless chargers that can simultaneously support multiple devices.

Author of the project and Associate Director of Center for Wearable Sensors Patrick Mercier told the UCSD Guardian that what prompted the research was the incompatibility of different electronic devices.

“In terms of the motivation, wireless charging is becoming more and more popular today,” Mercier said. “You can buy phones that feature this built in. But the problem is the market is fragmented in the sense that there are three different standards that are not necessarily compatible with one another. And so what we’ve wanted to do is build a charging station that can work with any of those three standards.”

Mercier added that one of the main challenges of creating a device like the universal wireless charger is that one of the standards functions optimally at a significantly higher frequency of 6.78 MHz compared to the 200 kHz at which the other two standards operate.

To address this issue, Dr. Mercier and his team created a device with two coils: an inner and an outer one. The inner coil favorably supports two of the three standards at 200kHz, while the outer coil optimally supports the remaining standard at 6.78 MHz. Both coils lie in the same plane, thus allowing for a small rectangular-sized device, similar to a cell phone. According to a press release from the Jacobs School of Engineering, the charging platform is just enough to fit two smartphones side by side.

UCSD Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers President and Sixth College senior Ryan Collins described the device as having “some tricky circuitry” and being “almost like an adapter.” He also compared the impact of the universal wireless charger to the USB.

“With different standards, you kind of have to buy different standards or adapters,” Collins told the Guardian. “That’s why the USB was so successful. It kind of encompassed all these different plugs and put it all into one device.”

This device can potentially save a “standard war,” such as previous ones with VHS, HD and DVD. According to Mercier, the technology aims to eliminate these differences.

“Ultimately, the market is fragmented until there’s a clear winner that becomes identified,” Mercier said. “In some cases, a winner is never identified, and we get huge market fragmentations. That’s not good for consumers. What we’re trying to do with the research is develop a solution in which it doesn’t matter which one wins. We can still work with any of [the standards].”

Not only do the chargers operate at each frequency, but they also have high-power efficiency transfer. To finalize the project, the researchers plan to integrate digital protocols.

Beyond the design, Dr. Mercier and his colleagues have filed for a patent regarding the idea of enabling the high efficiency universal wireless chargers. They are also currently speaking with a number of companies for licensing opportunities and potential plans to create a startup to construct this technology.

Collins noted that the universal wireless chargers demonstrate the underappreciated strength of UCSD’s research and development.

“[UCSD is] a great, well-respected school,” Collins said. “However, it’s not the most publicly recognized school. It’s kind of like we’re underdogs. We know we’re good, but it’s like we have to prove ourselves to get any sort of recognition for our great discoveries in research and technology — I feel very proud of that.”

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