New WiTricity CEO: 2015 Will Show “Real Progress” for Wireless Power

6/18/14Follow @curtwoodward

[Updated 2:15 p.m.]
It’s easy to forget that, just a decade ago, wireless Internet access wasn’t the first-world commodity we take for granted today.

As the head of HP’s “mobile computing group” back then, Alex Gruzen had seen wi-fi make some steps toward the mainstream. But the true leap, he recalls, wouldn’t come until Intel made wireless connectivity a central part of its Centrino brand chips.

“There were several companies sort of developing wi-fi,” Gruzen says. But “it truly was the sheer commitment and critical mass that Intel brought to the table around Centrino that got it into hotel lobbies, that got it into airports, that got it into offices.”

Today, Gruzen is hoping a new partnership with the legendary chipmaker will have similar results.

As the new CEO of WiTricity, Gruzen is pushing consumer electronics makers to adopt the MIT spinout’s next-generation wireless battery-charging technology.

Gruzen

Gruzen

And Intel is playing a key part: it’s a major investor in WiTricity through its venture capital arm, and last week announced a substantial licensing and development deal with WiTricity.

That’s a big step forward for Watertown, MA-based WiTricity. But it doesn’t mean we’ll be tossing out all of those annoying power cords tomorrow.

Cord-free battery charging is one of those technological leaps forward that seems to be forever just around the corner. It’s already available in limited ways—Starbucks is rolling out one flavor of wireless charging at its stores, and certain brands of smartphones have already incorporated one kind of technology. But the broader market is still waiting.

One roadblock is a disagreement over technical standards. There are three independent groups vying to make their systems the most broadly adopted, and various companies in the consumer electronics industry have taken sides.

WiTricity is a board member of one of the groups, the Alliance For Wireless Power, which is backing a consumer brand called Rezence. But the lines aren’t very clearly drawn, since major companies like Samsung are hedging their bets by participating in all three groups.

WiTricity’s technology is seen as the next-generation choice because it doesn’t require devices to be placed directly on top of a charging mat or other connected surface to draw power. Instead, WiTricity can send electric power through the air to a device that is nearby, but not physically connected to anything.

It works by running AC electricity through a special coil, which converts the energy to a higher frequency and voltage and creates a type of magnetic field. A second coil embedded in the device that’s being charged resonates at the same frequency, and can convert the energy in that magnetic field back into standard electricity.

Competing systems use magnetic induction technology, which requires the device and charger to touch each other—if you have an ultrasonic toothbrush, you’re already familiar with this kind of arrangement.

WiTricity’s pitch here is obvious, particularly in a mobile computing age: what good is wireless charging, really, if you have to lay your device down on a special spot to get the juice? But having gee-whiz technology is not enough to get your product widely adopted in a far-flung, fast-moving supply chain.

That’s where Gruzen comes in. He was hired this spring, replacing longtime WiTricity CEO Eric Giler.

The privately held company displayed all the signs of a friendly transition in its announcement—Giler remained on the board, he supplied a happy quote about the new boss, and his tenure was declared a success.

But the two executives’ resumes give a pretty clear indication of the difference WiTricity was seeking. Giler is an experienced wireless-industry and startup guy (he’s also co-founder of Scratch Wireless, an alternative entry-level mobile communication startup). Gruzen has spent most of his career in the PC and laptop business, including stints at Sony, Compaq, HP, and Dell.

“I have, for 20 years, been on the customer side of taking interesting, complex new technologies and building them and integrating them into products,” he says. “So I know what it takes to be a great partner that makes it really easy for a product company to embed that technology and bring it to market in scale.”

Gruzen says his deep roots in the PC world doesn’t mean WiTricity is putting other markets like mobile, automotive, or healthcare in the back seat. “But the ability to go complete the Intel deal and then go execute on it—I’ve known those guys for years,” he says. The company is now, he says, in a phase of “aggressive commercialization.” [Corrected name.]

So what’s that mean for my desire to ditch those infernal cords? It’s still coming, Gruzen says—and he’s even willing to start putting a date on things.

“2015 should be the year for real progress,” he says.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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  • Khalid

    This technology is indeed wonderful. I am an old person interested in technology and hope and pray that I be alive to see this in everyday use.