Your Next Smartphone May Ditch the Charging Cable in Favor of Lasers

Lasers have now existed for well over half a century, and yet they still enjoy an almost mystical status in pop culture. Even today, you’re likely to find lasers as a futuristic element in sci-fi films. But, they might not seem so futuristic soon, because your next smartphone may just be charged one.

The wireless charging system. (📷: Mark Stone/University of Washington)

At the University of Washington, a team of engineers have created a system for charging consumer electronics with laser beams. Wireless charging by laser isn’t a particularly new concept, and the basic technology already exists. It just takes an invisible laser beam emitter, and a power cell which converts that into electrical energy.

The real innovation here is in the practicality and safety of the system. Lasers that output any real power are, as you might expect, dangerous to your health. So, the team added an additional four “guard” lasers that are completely harmless and which surround the power laser. If something touches one of the guard lasers—like your hand—a shutter will block the power laser in just a fraction of a second.

The UW team’s prototype heatsink assembly, which can be attached to the back of a smartphone, consists of a photovoltaic cell connected to a thermoelectric generator. (📷: Mark Stone/University of Washington)

The system can transmit power up to 14 feet and cover a 15 square inch area. It can provide 2W of power, which puts it on par with most current cable-based smartphone chargers. As the team envisions it, you’ll simply set your phone (or other device) on a table, where the laser will immediately begin the charging process—all without wires.