The Wireless Power Consortium wants to make power cords a thing of the past in the kitchen

Appliance garage getting tangled up with power cords?

Not to worry. Eventually, those pesky power cables may some day be a problem of the past. That’s because the Wireless Power Consortium, the same group behind the Qi wireless charging standard, has set its sights beyond mobile phones and now hopes to change how appliances are powered in the kitchen.

Imagine A Cordless Kitchen

So what would a cordless kitchen look like? Not unlike those futuristic videos you’ve probably seen, one where everyday surfaces like kitchen countertops and tables can send power to products ranging from coffee makers to cookware.

In a white paper published by the WPC in February, the group highlights a few key use cases, two of which are illustrated in the artist rendering below.

Using cordless appliances on a kitchen counter. Image credit: Wireless Power Consortium/Philips

The first image on the left is one where a small kitchen appliance like a blender is powered without the need for a cable. In the second image on the right, the counter acts not only as a source of heat using induction heating, but also utilizes wireless power technology to enable communication between the cookware and the heat source to set the appropriate power for high-precision cooking.

How Does It Work?

How will wireless power in the kitchen work? Like the Qi standard for smaller devices like phones, the KWG will use induction charging, where a magnetic power coil (MPC) in the surface couples with a second coil in the appliance.

If you are familiar with induction heating for cooking, this utilizes the same induction power transfer concepts, only in this case instead of heating a pan or other piece of cookware, the power is converted back to electricity.

The KWG has settled on NFC as the primary communication technology in part because it is safer. One obvious safety benefit of NFC is the technology requires close proximity for communication, which means practically zero chance of an appliance communicating with the wrong transmitter.

A Long Cook Cycle

The history of the Wireless Power’s Kitchen Working Group (KWG) dates back to 2013 when consumer electronics giants Philips and Haier started pushing the WPC to look at developing a kitchen standard.

Four years later, the group is still busy plugging away and, while things are moving slowly, the group chaired by Hans Kaublau is still working towards a world where kitchen cords are a thing of the past.

Why are things moving so slowly?

According to Kablau, there are few reasons. One is it’s simply taken some time to get wireless power charging to the point where it can power appliances. Qi, the WPC’s first standard, took years to develop, starting in 2009 with 5W power requirement and in 2015 bumping that up to 15W capability (medium power). This year, the WPC hopes to enable charging of high power devices with 100W capability.

Second is it takes time to get buy in from all the major stakeholders. While Haier and Philips were there from the beginning, the group has yet to get buy in from appliance giants Whirlpool and Electrolux.

Another challenge may be a divided industry. There continues to be something of a wireless power standards battle going on, with the Airfuel Alliance developing a different set of technologies for wireless power that utilizes resonant charging, a technology that offers benefits over WPC’s inductive charging such as longer ranges for power transfer. The Airfuel Alliance, which is backed by technology powerhouses like Qualcomm and Samsung and battery giant Duracell, doesn’t have a kitchen-focused initiative, but does say the technology can be used for “kitchen applications”.

All of this still that hasn’t stopped the two founding companies of WPG’s Kitchen Working Group from working on prototypes. In 2016, Philips showed off a prototype on Fuji TV in Japan of an electric fryer with wireless power. You can see the video of the product in action below:

The KWG is hoping to finalize the version 0.9 specification by the end of 2017. The specification has largely been defined but is currently being tested by the working group.

As a result, “we could be looking at products out next year,” said Kablau.

While I am excited for a future where we see cords go away and all our kitchen appliances are magically charged simply by setting them down on the counter, I suspect such a future is still a long way off.  One only has to look at how slow induction heating has been to take off in the US to see how resistant the traditional kitchen and appliance makers – as well as consumers – are to change.

Still, that doesn’t mean I’m not excited for the future of the cordless kitchen.  There are clear benefits of dropping power cords, whether it means a more orderly countertop or the greater safety of no cords on wet surfaces, and with cordless kitchen products debuting as soon as next year, it might be time for the industry and consumers to start getting excited as well.

If you want to hear Wireless Power Consortium Char Hans Kablau speak about the cordless kitchen, make sure to come to the Smart Kitchen Summit in October. Use the discount code SPOON for 25% off of tickets.

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