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Watertown Company Helps Dell Develop 1st Wireless Charging Laptop04:34Download

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Morris Kesler, WiTricity's chief technology officer, places Dell's new wireless charging laptop on a charging pad. The computer charges through magnetic resonance technology developed at Watertown-based WiTricity. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Morris Kesler, WiTricity's chief technology officer, places Dell's new wireless charging laptop on a charging pad. The computer charges through magnetic resonance technology developed at Watertown-based WiTricity. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Dell's new wireless charging laptop, featuring technology developed by Watertown-based tech company WiTricity, hits the market Tuesday.

The Latitude 7285 is essentially the first of its kind in the computer industry. The new laptop charges through magnetic resonance technology that was developed at WiTricity.

"The power source, which is the pad that the laptop sits on, creates a magnetic field that the laptop uses to charge," explained Morris Kesler, WiTricity's chief technology officer. There's a coil in the back of the laptop and a coil in the charging pad that creates the magnetic field.

Kesler says the mat charges the laptop just as fast as a traditional power cord. But for now, wireless charging isn't as mobile as customers might imagine. Even though you don't have to plug the WiTricity laptop into a wall, the mat has to remain plugged in to function.

"The idea is you might have one of these on your desktop," said Kesler, pointing to a thin black charging mat with a Dell laptop on it. "You might have one in a conference room, where you just put your device down there and it charges. You might have one at home. You have these around and the convenience is, I don't have to worry about plugging and unplugging and carrying an adapter with me."

Of course, buying multiple charging pads could be pricey and inconvenient. But Kesler imagines a future where wireless technology is eventually integrated into our furniture.

"Ultimately, this technology can be incorporated into the desks so that it's not visible on the desk," he said.

For Dell, the appeal of this technology is its practicality. "The idea of freedom from wires is just one of the main pillars that we focus on," said Kelli Hodges, the director of Dell's Go To Market Mobility team.

Part of Dell's strategy with this new laptop is to assess how wireless charging is perceived by key customers before rolling it out across more products. "When we think about the idea of wireless charging, is it a nice to have or a need to have?" Hodges said.

For now, the Dell laptop is a specialty product, catering to workplaces more than general consumers. "I would say for it to become part of the mainstream of what we’re doing ... I think you’re looking at probably two years out," Hodges said.

To date, most wireless charging has focused on cellphones. In 2016 there were just under 240 million devices shipped worldwide with wireless charging capabilities, according David Green, an analyst with IHS Markit who covers the wireless power sector.

"Growth could be massive, you know, by 2025 you'll be talking about 2 billion devices a year," he estimated.

Still, just because a product can be charged wirelessly doesn't mean people are charging it wirelessly. For example, many people might not know that Samsung has been integrating wireless charging into its Galaxy phones for years

For now, it's still an emerging technology, in part because Green says consumers are sometimes reluctant to try it.

"There’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, whereby a consumer doesn’t really want to know about something convenience-based because they feel what they do right now is fine," he said. "When people do start using it, they love it. So the difficulty is getting it into that first use."

Green says the first step is to make consumers aware the technology exists and convince them to give it a try. He's confident the demand for wireless charging will eventually follow.

"We’ve waited a long time to get the first [laptop] product to market," Green said. "So I think by having the first one out there it opens up the market a little bit more for others to follow."

And there are high expectations for what other laptop manufacturers might eventually offer. Apple recently joined the Wireless Power Consortium, an umbrella group of over 200 international tech companies that calls for a standardized form of wireless charging known as Qi — the same technology provided in Samsung phones.

This segment aired on July 20, 2017.

Asma Khalid Twitter Reporter
Asma Khalid leads WBUR's BostonomiX - a new biz/tech team covering the innovation economy.

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