Israeli startup makes unsightly wires and cables disappear

Say goodbye to wires: Powermat promises to clean up your home and office by letting you power up your electrical devices right from the table you’re working on. Several decades into the computer revolution, it’s safe to say that the …

Say goodbye to wires: Powermat promises to clean up your home and office by letting you power up your electrical devices right from the table you’re working on.

Several decades into the computer revolution, it’s safe to say that the bytes and bits have proven their worth. Thanks to computers and their task-specific offspring, businesses and households can get more done in less time. Never have so many had so much access to so much information, thanks to the Internet; and communications, thanks to e-mail and digital telephony, have never been easier or cheaper.

There was just one thing they forgot to tell us on the way to the revolution – how much of a mess it would be.

I’m talking, of course, about the wires – the feet, yards, and sometimes even miles of power cables that we have to plug into electrical outlets to “juice up” our revolutionary devices. Cables – too many of them, as well as outlets – not enough in which to plug all the devices on which we’ve come to rely – have been the bane of office workers for years. And now that the electronic data revolution has hit home, cable “spaghetti” is starting to take over our living rooms too.

But there is a way out of this tangled mess, and thanks to Israeli startup Powermat, you’ll soon be able to manage all those cables. That’s because Powermat, led by CEO Ran Poliakine, has developed a system whereby the electrical devices in your home or office will get their power not from a plug – but right off the table you’re working on.

It’s not magic, says Poliakine, but electromagnetic waves – similar to the ones used with popular radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. RFID systems usually have a base, which throws out radio signals seeking information collected by “tags” aligned with the system. The technology is used, for example, to keep track of endangered species in the wild; animals are tagged with an unobtrusive chip, and information on their whereabouts and doings is captured by the radio base and recorded. The tags are thin, small and cheap, but the technology has been limited to collecting or sending data – until now, that is.

In a brilliant twist, Powermat uses the idea of low cost “tags” to deliver electrical power – allowing you to “liberate” yourself from the cord that has kept you tied to the outlet on the wall. The basic technology used by Powermat is over 100 years old – developed by Nikola Tesla who, among other things, experimented with the wireless transmission of electricity.

The result? “A base controller that can transmit and control electrical power in devices at close range,” says Poliakine. The base is a flat ‘mat’, a few millimeters thick, designed to rest on a table. It can be embedded on a table, a kitchen countertop, or even a wall – and it transmits power via a magnetic field to devices with an attached tag (a “puck” in the Powermat jargon). Any tagged electronic device placed on or close to the mat – will be able to run, without being plugged into a socket. The mat can be any size, from a letter-sized sheet of paper to the floor of an entire room. The only thing in the room that is plugged into the power is the Powermat base, with every tagged device in range drawing on the power it distributes.

Then, according to Poliakine, you’ll be able to place your TV anywhere in the room, without worrying about whether the cord reaches an electrical outlet; no more tripping over your laptop cord as the battery is recharging, thus breaking the charge connector in the machine (one of the most common reasons laptops are sent in for repairs); and that bread machine/coffeemaker/toaster that your spouse didn’t want on the kitchen counter because of wire sprawl – no longer a problem.

Each transmitter in the plug and play base system can transmit up to 100 watts of power, Poliakine says – enough to power four or five medium sized devices, along with some smaller ones.

“In an office environment, you could power up a laptop with an external monitor, a PDA, a desk lamp, a cellphone, and most other common devices you would have in the room, with one Powermat,” he told ISRAEL21c. “As long as they are placed on the mat and have a tag to receive power and communicate with the base, the system will run smoothly and safely.”

No question that a Powermat will make electronic life more convenient and more comfortable. But, as Poliakine says, making the office and home environment safer is also an important part of Powermat’s mission.

“Fewer wires mean less chance of electrical shorts, which means less possibility of a fire due to frayed wires, tripping over cables and knocking down devices, or dangerous situations due to electronic equipment getting wet,” Poliakine says. In fact, he adds, Powermat recently did a demonstration in which various devices were untethered from their cords, to be used poolside – and in the pool as well – without any of the usual risks attendant when mixing electricity and water.

Besides fire safety, Poliakine says, the Powermat system can be used to regulate, and save, electricity – making it as much a part of the green revolution as it is a part of the tech one. “We have refined the system designed by Tesla in order to ensure safe and precise ‘broadcasting’ of power from the base. The base can detect which tagged devices are active and to what extent, so it can regulate itself, drawing out less power when devices within range are in sleep or rest mode – thus saving electricity overall,” he says. The regulation system also keeps radiation emanations from both the base and tagged devices to a minimum as well, he says.

And, unlike the less fortunate Tesla, who had a hard time selling his ideas to a skeptical world, Powermat’s products have generated a great deal of interest from manufacturers, marketers, and service providers of all sorts. Several Manhattan hotels have installed Powermats for their customers, and the system is set to go retail early next year.

“A major US electronics chain will be retailing two versions of the Powermat; one for higher wattage devices, like computers, monitors, and coffee makers, which will cost $99, and another for low power devices, like cell phones, PDAs, and shavers, for $49,” Poliakine says.

The first Powermat systems will include the base, of course – but you will have to attach a free-standing “puck” to each item you want to power up. That, though, is likely to change, as consumers flock to the Powermat, and electronic device manufacturers begin “getting it.” Poliakine expects that manufacturers will start designing devices and products with receiver tags already built in.

“I expect that it will happen along the lines of how Bluetooth came to be a communications standard,” he says. “At first you had to buy a separate receiver to attach to your laptop or PDA in order to utilize Bluetooth, but now most devices include the standard in their design – because manufacturers realize it is a selling point.”

And while it may take manufacturers a while to begin coming up with Powermat compatible devices, Poliakine says that the living room revolution could begin much sooner. “We are in serious talks with some major furniture manufacturers and developers of ‘smart houses’ who will incorporate Powermat tags into their products, for TVs, stereos, etc., that can be powered without wires.”

Powermat has some powerful science behind it, too. Chief among the developers of Powermat technology is the company’s chief technology officer, Dr. Amir Ben-Shalom, Israeli expert on electrical engineering and electro-optics. Ben-Shalom worked with Poliakine in his previous venture, Magink Technologies, which makes digital billboards that use a patented digital ink system, instead of traditional paper and ink or LED technology on large-scale displays – making the billboards friendlier to the environment (saving paper and ink), and more visible in bright light than LED, as well as cheaper to run (less electricity and longer life). Ben-Shalom’s research provided several of the patents for Magink. Plus, he is a curator of the Israel Science Museum (http://www.mada.org.il/english/) – a singular achievement in a country full of scientists.

Although there are other companies working in this space, Polkialine says, none have come as far as Powermat in developing a market-ready system to eliminate cables. This means that Powermat, and the company’s developers (about 20 people currently work there), are the leading agents in the upcoming cordless revolution.

But for Poliakine, that’s secondary to the task at hand. “If I can make it easier for people to get their work done without having to crawl under a table to untangle the cables and cords, I’ve done my job.”


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