What if you could power your electronic devices without wires? And what if you could put wirelessly powered displays for advertising virtually anywhere, especially in retail environments, without having to worry about cabling for power? Once a dream of Nikola Tesla, the tech is now becoming a reality thanks to pioneering work by Wi-Charge, an Israel-based firm that develops wireless power for retail and digital signage, smart home and other applications.

Ori Mor, co-founder and chief business officer at Wi-Charge and at Robert Macauley, head of products at Wi-Charge, joined editor Daniel Brown via video link to discuss the rapid development of wireless power and wirelessly powered displays like the Wi-Spot 3.0, designed to reach consumers at the point of purchase, which research indicates is where the majority of purchase choices actually happen.

The Wi-Spot 3.0 is a wirelessly powered color display aimed at retail environments. Image: Wi-Charge.

The wireless power revolution

The genesis of wireless power goes back to seminal work by Ortal Alpert, according to Mor, the child of a family of inventors.

“We have this crazy scientist Ortal [Alpert], who is the CTO. He comes from a family of inventors. If you walk down the main street in Jerusalem, you’d see a sun dial. His grandfather’s grandfather is the one who put it there. So they’re a family of out-of-the-box thinkers and inventors.”

Like Mor, CEO Victor Vaisleib served in the Electronic Research Department in the IDF, and both men are laureates of the Israel Defense Award; the combination of scientific and technical collaboration helped give birth to the wireless power technology, but it all began with a mundane inconvenience.

“Ortal [Alpert] had a previous startup that did terabyte storage when everyone was doing gigabyte storage,” Mor said, which led to intense international travel. During these travels, Alpert’s mobile phone died, and the frustration led him to begin thinking about solutions related to wireless power. Thus was born a journey that would lead to the founding of Wi-Charge.


Mor is quick to explain that the safety of the technology is central and rooted in science, with power being supplied via infrared light waves, “which is the most benign part of the spectrum. It’s not manmade radiation, it’s the same infrared that you get when you walk on the street and are exposed to the warmth of the sun.

“If you ask a doctor, what is the most benign part of the spectrum, he would say infrared. So it’s not RF, it’s not microwave, it’s not magnetic, it’s pure light. And it’s directional, meaning it doesn’t flood the environment; it’s very directional. 100% of what leaves the transmitter reaches the receiver. And when you cross the path of the beam, the beam simply shuts off.”

I asked Mor if he can provide a layman’s guide to the science.

“So that part is actually simple,” Mor said, explaining that solar panels rely on the photoelectric effect explained by Einstein in work that earned him a Nobel Prize.

“Solar panels can convert light into electricity,” he said. “So, you pump in electricity to the transmitter, the transmitter converts the electricity to an infrared light beam. The light beam propagates to the receiver, and on the receiver, there is a photovoltaic cell, which is like a solar cell that converts the light back to electricity.”

Wi-Spot 3.0 wirelessly powered display – front view. Image: Wi-Charge.

AI and the power of in-store retail advertising

When I ask him about the power of AI in the technology, Mor points to two areas of development. First, the algorithms that control power distribution from the transmitter to target devices (such as digital signage displays) are able to study environments to optimize power distribution. Second, the team is researching the possibility of making Wi-Spot displays “smarter” with AI that can allow them to tailor messaging and make it more engaging to each viewer, which has long been something of a holy grail for retail environments and for programmatic digital out-of-home advertising in general.

“It will be much more sophisticated if you can actually tailor the message to male or female or young adult, based on different demographics and actually close the loop on point of sale data. So, think of it like AB testing done in real time at the store, and the content and messaging is tailored by an AI algorithm.

“I think it exists in a sense online,” Mor added, “but it simply doesn’t exist in physical stores, and yes, it’s a dream because 80-85% of buying takes place in physical stores, not online. And being able to deliver a convincing message to someone that is actionable… is indeed a holy grail.”

On this topic, McCauley spoke about the features on the company’s latest retail-focused display, the Wi-Spot 3.0. The device features enhanced 800×480 resolution, along with enhanced battery life to cover any situation where the wireless power may be interrupted.

“We made a lot of choices on this display… to make the battery life as long as it can possibly be,” McCauley said. “So, because of that, we have essentially doubled the battery life of this device. The seven-inch, for example, was about 350 minutes on the previous design. Now, it’s over 700. And the five-inch [model] is also over 700, and it was about 500 before… So, imagine a video display playing constantly for eight or 10 hours and never having to refresh its batteries wirelessly. There’s nothing like it in the world.”

The displays are also able to provide valuable data to retailers, such as foot traffic and dwell time. “This is actually data the grocery stores don’t know today. They have a really good sense of who goes in and out of their stores. They don’t have a great sense of who’s going down what aisle at what time. And so, we’re actually able to provide advanced analytics in a way that certainly other displays can’t do today. It’s a function of our battery efficiency.”

The growing reach of wireless power

While the applications of wireless power are theoretically endless, Mor said the company’s focus is currently the retail media space, with an aim to engagement at the point of purchase.

“But in parallel, we have consumer applications,” Mor said. “As an anecdote, for every child being born today, 30 devices go online. Someone needs to charge those devices, right? So, our technology is capable of powering — it will power billions of different devices across probably 20 different industries.”

Still, the secret to success is starting small, and Mor said the company consciously decided to choose one product in commercial application, one smart home product, and more recently additional consumer and commercial devices. While Mor said he could not disclose some projects in development, he did mention that the company has gone public with its work in wirelessly powered advertising displays (the Wi-Spot series), wirelessly charged smart locks, and designs for videogame controllers, toothbrush chargers, and wirelessly powered charging pads.

Sustainability and “Power-as-a-Service”

The company’s growth strategy isn’t the only part of the business focused on sustainability. Mor says that one of the core missions of the team has been to reduce waste and environmental damage caused by disposable batteries.

“One transmitter can save today up to 5,000 AA batteries, which is your body weight in batteries,” Mor said. “The next generation [of transmitters] will probably be able to save 10,000 or 15,000.”

Mor cited examples such as retailers, which are adopting electronic shelf labels, often powered by lithium batteries with lifetimes of 5 years. “If you take 5,000 stores times 100,000 [SKUs] and divided by five years per [battery] lifetime, you get 100 million batteries every year that need to be disposed, which is a huge waste, right? So, we’re looking forward to seeing power as a service in retail locations where you can eliminate all this battery waste — and the EU is actually progressing in banning the use of batteries where possible.”

Another pain point wireless power is targeting is in the hospitality industry. Mor told the story of a recent hotel stay where the hotel used touchpad smart locks. Ever the scientist, he looked inside the door lock mechanism, and saw eight AA batteries inside.

“Now think about it,” Mor said. “It’s a single hotel. Eight batteries with several hundred rooms. That’s 3,000 batteries per hotel per year — for a single location… So I posted that on LinkedIn, and it got almost a thousand reactions,” including comments and messages from users who were surprised that their “green” devices often used disposable batteries.

Whether in advertising displays in retail (such as cooler video screens or point of sale displays), or whether in smart locks and battery-powered faucets in airports, there is also a problem of labor. It takes a lot of labor to change out batteries on a reliable schedule, and compliance is an issue; if staff forget to replace batteries on time, if there is short staffing, or even if staff choose to abscond with batteries, it all results in poor guest experiences and lost revenue for businesses, Mor explained; wirelessly powering devices in retail and hospitality is a potential gamechanger for multiple industries.

(March 12, 2024). Daniel Brown – Editor, Networld Media Group. Retrieved from https://www.digitalsignagetoday.com/articles/retail-digital-signage-and-the-wireless-power-revolution/