Ugly Ceiling Tiles Made Over Into Sleek Wireless Chargers

The buildings of the future might charge electronics, no cables or adapters needed.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Washington-based tech company Ossia unveiled a drop-ceiling panel that can charge electronics within a 30-foot range wirelessly. While furniture, accessories, and even material companies have experimented with wireless chargers, the Cota tile represents how buildings themselves could integrate smart tech.

The square tiles are thin, white, and have a slightly raised black hexagonal ring on their surface. Here’s how the underlying Cota tech works: an energy source sends power to a tiny receiver that can be embedded in devices through magnetic resonance–essentially the transfer of radio-frequency energy from the power source to a device. The waves travel at the same frequency as WiFi signals and abides by all FCC regulations for WiFi and Bluetooth signals presumably, this makes the tech as safe as WiFi. So instead of hunting for electrical outlets and sorting through a tangle of cables, power strips, and charging docks, you could potentially just go about business as usual in places equipped with the tile and never worry about your gadgets running on empty. As consumers welcome more electronics into their homes and offices, the Cota tile offers a solution for keeping everything powered up.

In a press release, Hatem Zeine, chief technology officer at Ossia and the technology’s inventor, said the tile “demonstrates the ease of infrastructure deployment” and mentioned that it could be applied to “homes, coffee shops, hospitals or other commercial and residential spaces.”

One of the challenges with wireless charging is ensuring that the devices that need power get it. Cota’s smart tech detects the power level of devices to which it’s connected and distributes energy accordingly.

The tile shape was not the original form factor. Instead of thinking about Cota as a free-standing object, Ossia views it as something embeddable into the environment. This architectural application has implications for making our buildings smarter–a struggle in the construction industry since integrating tech into structures is often expensive and, due to the long shelf life of buildings, a recipe for obsolescence. The Cota tile represents a plug-in “upgrade” that can be applied to existing building stock and new construction alike. Plus, the sleek white tile is a heck of a lot nicer to look at than generic acoustic tiles (though you wouldn’t need an entire ceiling of them).

But if Cota is going to become viable as a wireless power source, electronics manufacturers would have to integrate the receiver into their products or create after-market accessories that users could attach to their devices. So don’t ditch your plug-in charger just yet.

Correction: A previous edition incorrectly stated the power source was electromagnetic; Cota emits radio-frequency power.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

More

Video

More Stories