Since the latest iPhones adopted it as a feature, wireless charging has really begun to take hold. Tech start-up Chargifi is going one step further by rolling out smart wireless charging in hotels, bars and now offices including Amazon. Founder Dan Bladen explains to Dan Robinson how it will one day be as important as Wi-Fi
Imagine being able to walk to a hot desk work station, lay your mobile phone on a charging point and your seat is automatically adjusted to your ideal height, while the air conditioning hits the optimum temperature you prefer.
Or you step into a boardroom and the same action begins a conference call by informing everyone you are ready.
Wireless charging is nothing new but by adding intelligent features like these, Chargifi is moving it to another level by implementing smart wireless charging into workplaces of the future.
Co-founder Dan Bladen, 29, says: “Wireless power has been around for a long time – Serbian-American engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla invented it around the turn of the 20th century and it’s been in the electric toothbrush for 20 years.
“But only recently has it been adopted in smartphones and even laptops as people want to carry less cables around.
“It’s at a very early stage in terms of consumer adoption but its inclusion in the iPhone 8 and X models was huge for the industry.
“Our sales pipeline grew by up to 800% after they were announced and, since then, about 100 other companies including Google have joined wireless standard bodies, giving huge endorsement to the industry that it’s now go-time.”
Dan says a “monumental shift” is taking place as the world goes electric, and electric goes wireless.
“As a society, we have never been more reliant upon power for our phones and vehicles than we are today,” he adds.
“This year you will be able to charge your new car wirelessly, by pulling it up over a wireless charging area.
“In the future, drones will land on buildings and charge wirelessly before taking off again.”
Identifying the need for wireless charging en masse
Dan, who is based Sussex, came up with the idea while travelling around the world with his wife for six months in 2012.
He realised they made strategic decisions about the venues they visited based on the availability of power sockets so they could recharge and contact family and friends back home.
“We realised we weren’t struggling for connectivity – the 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi was prevalent – but our problem was staying charged,” he says.
With a background in the Internet of Things – the concept of connecting devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded in tech to share data and integrate with each other – he spotted an opportunity for adding value to wireless charging.
Adoption of the technology was growing at the time and Chargifi was launched in June 2013 with co-founder Charlie Cannell, who is also a digital director at venture capital fund Inflexion Private Equity.
To date, the start-up has raised £10.5m in investment, with backers including Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Intel Capital and Zipcar founder Brett Akker.
It has 15 staff in an office – fitted with wireless charging, of course – in Borough, London, and expects to double that headcount over the next year.
Dan, who also designed and implemented network and AV infrastructure for a £6.5m building project in West London in his previous working life, compares Chargifi’s modus operandi to what HPE’s data networking company Aruba does in gaining smart insights from the wireless connectivity space.
Patents it has filed include locating a wireless charging point using software like an app, authenticating a device on to a wireless charging network, activating and deactivating a wireless charging sessions remotely via the Chargifi cloud, and communicating with a device or user during a wireless charging session.
He says: “Aruba perfected the enterprise management of Wi-Fi and we do the same for wireless power.
“If you’re Hilton and putting wireless charging into 600,000 rooms and every hotel bar in the US, you’re going to be tasked with managing three million charging points across the country.
“But we are building the foundational software platform that will allow billions of us to take advantage of wireless power.
“From coffee shops to hotels, airports to campuses, in just a few short years from now wireless power will be as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi.”
Wireless charging isn’t just about smartphones.
BMW and Mercedes is rolling out the feature for charging its electric vehicles, while Chargifi also has a patent that can wirelessly a drone using a pad – similar to how wireless charging works for a new range of cars.
“We’ll soon see Deliveroo drones making deliveries to people’s doorsteps so they need to be charged,” asks Dan.
“We think wireless charging has huge potential in the world of automation, but before that we must ensure wireless charging is in every place where Wi-Fi is today.”
Wireless charging brings in revenue
Already, some successes can be recognised by Chargifi in the hospitality industry where it’s made those first inroads.
Figures recorded in the six-week periods either side of wireless charging points being installed at a major hotel brand’s bar in Las Vegas in March this year showed sales had increased by 64% – representing net revenues of $2,400 (£1,800) per seat.
Hotel guests charged their devices at the stations for a total of 4,270 minutes, with an average charge time of 45 minutes.
Dan says this highlights how installing wireless charging is not just about improving amenities but how it has commercial possibilities – which are increased even more through smart wireless charging, which provides data insights through people’s connections to power.
He adds: “There is also the potential to monetise power with the added data that it provides.
“If a user is wirelessly powering their phone in the lobby, for example, there is potential for them to order food, drink and other services directly from their device, meaning a completely seamless and productive working experience.
“The data the hotel receives will allow them to know exactly where the user is located, as opposed to Wi-Fi – which only tells who’s in the space, not at which particular location, so it makes in-venue ordering and delivery quick and easy to fulfil.”
Chargifi bringing smart wireless charging to the workplace
Having made key strides in hospitality, Chargifi is now turning its attention to helping shape workplaces of the future through smart wireless charging.
It has installed wireless charging points at some of Amazon’s London offices, as well as at Intel’s California office, Imperial College London, London business club The Clubhouse and several of office provider Fora’s co-working spaces.
Chargifi will install transmitters below table markers, and then its platform helps businesses to manage and monitor their charging hotspots in real-time.
They are also able to embed the software into any existing office apps they already use.
The company is working with 90 organisations – also including FC Barcelona and Atlanta Falcons – across 21 countries in total, with a particular focus on the UK, North America and China.
“Since the iPhone was launched in 2007, everyone has gradually come to own a Wi-Fi enabled device in their pocket,” says Dan.
“It’s led to a rise of BYOD – bring your own device – and studies have shown an increasing amount of people are using their personal phones throughout the day for office and productivity.
“And as we become ever more reliant on those devices, they become more reliant on power.”
The company is working closely with Hewlett Packard Enterprise to integrate into the IT giant’s own products that aim to foster business transformation and identify where value can be added to companies.
HPE calls this the “intelligent edge” – computing that creates smarter buildings, cities, work spaces, retail experiences and factory floors.
If particular places – be it an oil rig or a sports arena – are at the very edge where the action is, then Dan asserts that power is the most important part of a pyramid he compares to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
The basic psychology theory suggests that in order to achieve “self-actualisation” in which one’s potential is fulfilled, then a series of needs must be in place first – and right at the bottom are basic needs like food and water.
Dan explains: “In terms of ‘intelligent edge’, power is right at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs because there’s nothing more fundamental to an electrical device than a battery.
“How can we use a trigger to set off more experiences like more productive workspaces?”
In practice, this means creating smart breakout areas, smart conference calls and smart building management systems that adds cool features while also saving energy and money.
“You go to your hot desk and put your phone down on the wireless charging spot, and Chargifi recognises it’s your device.
“It sets the chair height to how you want it and the air conditioning in your space to your preferred temperature.
“Wireless charging can be used as a trigger to make buildings smarter. If you can do it at the point when people get access to power, there’s a value exchange between you and the building you’re using.
“We can see it creating smart boardrooms and meeting rooms too.
“A lot of meeting rooms have screens in front of the door so when you put your phone down on the charging point, it triggers the screen to say who is using it and could also start a video conference if it’s linked in with your calendar.”
History would suggest that pioneering a fast-moving concept is sure to bring rewards.
“The ambition of the business is to be a unicorn,” admits Dan.
“If we can move it into electric vehicles and automated vehicles and factories then it has even more potential.
“We’re going to start seeing this feature work its way into the designs of architects and furniture manufacturers very soon because wireless charging will soon be regarded as important as Wi-Fi.”