How wireless charging is taking over the high street. Feature by The London Evening Standard

London’s baristas regularly hear the refrain, “would you mind charging my phone?”. Indeed, it’s a hazard of the job. Recent research found that people working in the capital’s cafes are asked to charge customers’ phones around 20 times a day.

Dan Bladen is changing that. His company, Chargifi, based on Chancery Lane and rapidly expanding into the US, brings wireless charging to the high street through “digital zones”. It already works with Pret A Manger and provides wireless charging hotspots for customers’ phones, tablets and laptops. Transmitters are fitted under the tables, so all you have to do is place your device on the surface to boost battery.

“Wireless charging is going to be the new norm,” says Bladen. “In the same way you or I would choose a coffee shop because it has Wi-Fi, we think soon you’ll choose them based on wireless charging too.” Indeed, it is an exploding sector with wireless charging estimated to grow to $37.2 billion globally by 2022.

Bladen was inspired while travelling across India and South America with his wife, Jessica, in 2011. “Power was our biggest problem,” says the 28-year-old, who was Head of Technology for St Paul’s Church in Hammersmith at the time. “We realised that we made very strategic decisions about coffee shops and restaurants we went into because of the availability of power so we could connect with family and friends back home.” Bladen returned to the UK, hacked together a very cheap wireless charging pad and phoned one of his closest friends Charlie Cannell, Head of Digital at private equity firm Inflexion. “We went back to his office after lunch and said let’s call this Chargifi.” 48 hours later they had website domains and a logo. It has since raised $3.4m from investors such as Intel Capital, Techstars, R/GA Ventures and Brett Akker, the founder of Zipcar and LOVESPACE.

He’s tapped into a moment. Aside from the obvious plus of not getting in a tangle with power cords, going wireless is also more eco-friendly and significantly reduces wear and tear, and the big technology companies are also investing. Samsung’s latest phones, the Galaxy S7 and S8, have in-built wireless technology where users can hover their device over a hotspot to boost their battery. Microsoft, Google and Blackberry’s latest devices charge wirelessly. Apple is yet to build the same technology into the iPhone, but “all rumours point towards Apple having a wireless charging device later this year,” says Bladen. Laptop company, Dell has also incorporated wireless technology into its new laptop.

Chargifi hotspots will be rolled out across every new Pret A Manager store and can already be found in some of the chain’s most central venues, like on The Strand and in Victoria. Imperial College London uses Chargifi in its student union, as does co-working space, The Clubhouse in St James’ Square. Across the pond, Chargifi is present at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York, and a number of sports stadiums in the US and Spain.

“We’re hopefully releasing people from a huge amount of battery anxiety,” explains Bladen, who commutes into London from Sussex every day. “I’m coming into the office on 60 per cent and it’s only early in the morning.” Over half of Brits suffer from at least one “attack” of battery anxiety in a typical week, according to OnePoll research commissioned by Chargifi, and almost a quarter of people admit they have between three and ten episodes a week. Bladen recalls a recent investor who said he used a very early version of Chargifi to go to his first date. “He was on one per cent, so he used Chargifi for 20 minutes, was able to get Google Maps, and he phoned us last year and said I’m still with that person. We love those moments,” he smiles. His research showed that 64 per cent of women would be willing to spend anything up to £15 on extra coffee or sandwiches inside a venue just to charge their phone. Power is big business.

An analysis of 10,000 charging sessions since the start of this year revealed the busiest time of the week is 3pm on a Thursday – not long before city workers head to the pub. “That’s the time people are going into the red zone and might be going out that night after work,” says Bladen. “We’re here to get you home,” says Bladen. “We’re here to make sure you can use Apple Pay to get off the tube.”

London is very quick to embrace new technology, he adds. “What we have in technology is leaps and bounds ahead of anywhere else in Europe.” And the future is about more than just phones, tablets and laptops. “As we’ve grown and looked more at the industry, it’s been quite obvious where wireless charging solves other problems as well.” Power is the most important building block of a digital economy, he says. Electric vehicles will use wireless charging, he predicts, and slowly they will become driverless “because they won’t have arms to charge themselves”. “Your Uber in the future will go and charge at a particular time, a particular place, with no driver, using a Chargifi-enabled transmitter,” says Bladen. Inside cars, you’ll be able to chuck your phone into an ash tray and it will charge without cables.

Chargifi is also in talks with train companies, Bladen reveals, with plans to introduce the service initially just in First Class. “Commuters will come in on the train, wirelessly charge their laptop and phone on the journey, and get into the office and the desk has got it. You won’t even think about power – it’ll always be on tap.” Looking towards smart cities of the future, delivery drones will require wireless charging too, says Bladen. He’s also hoping that the technology will erase the need for travel adaptors. Power up.

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