Intel Wireless Charging at CES 2015

The Unknown Health Risks of Wireless Charging

The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas featured many new products that are part of what’s called the ‘Internet of Things’. Each of these represents a new source of EMF radiation in the home. But none are more concerning than wireless charging— the ability to charge your devices without cords.

An Intel Wireless Charger installed in a DuPont tabletop

An Intel Wireless Charger installed in a DuPont tabletop

There are several companies that promoted solutions for wireless charging at CES 2015.

Intel (which had a huge and impressive presence at the conference) was one of the largest firms to demonstrate their wireless charging solution. Intel is a member of the Association for Wireless Power (whose members also include Qualcomm, Samsung, Sharp, Sandisk, and many other firms) which is promoting a specific protocol for wireless charging, based on Rezence technology, which has posted their specification.

First, you need a tabletop with an inducer embedded in the surface. Since the inducer is beneath the surface, so you don’t actually see the charging device (which needs to be plugged into a power outlet). The tabletop can be made of any non-conductive surface, though all of Intel’s demos featured tables made with DuPont Corian (apparently DuPont and Intel have a marketing partnership to promote this technology once it is made available to the public).

Then, as long as you have a device with a Rezence-enabled case, simply place your device on the part of the table surface that has the inducer, and— voila!— your device is charging (as you can see in this photo of a laptop charging on a Rezence surface).

An Intel Presenter Demoing a Wireless Charging Laptop

An Intel Presenter Demoing a Wireless Charging Laptop

When I asked an representative from Intel what the EMF emissions from a Rezence tabletop were, he explained he did not know, but that I could find that information in the tech spec posted online (I was unable to locate any information on emissions).

He then added that “these are just magnetic fields— they’re not going to make you sterile” (unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of science demonstrating evidence to the contrary)— that’s not unusual, as many in the wireless industry are not aware of (and do not wish to be made aware of) the increasingly large body of science demonstrating health risks from their technology.

I noted that all of the Intel demo installations of wireless charging included this warning, apparently mandated by the FCC.

An FCC Warning posted at Intel's Wireless Charging Exhibit

An FCC Warning posted at Intel’s Wireless Charging Exhibit

While the FCC is tasked with regulating all devices that emit wireless radiation, their primary concern is to prevent interference with other radio signals (such as cell networks and broadcast transmissions)— the FCC is largely unconcerned with protecting human health. Still, I believe it is noteworthy that Intel was demonstrating technology they are not yet legally allowed to sell because of its EMF emissions.

I wish I’d’ve brought my gaussmeter and power density meter with me so that I could have measured the ELF and RF/MW emissions myself. I’ll have to make of point of doing that the next time I have the opportunity to see this technology in action.

This year’s CES featured many consumer products that are part of the increasingly large ‘internet of things’ (or IoT). In this new IoT world, essentially everything in your home is becoming a source of EMF emissions— I even saw WiFi enabled kitchen countertops at the conference. Still, as I said above, I believe that wireless charging is the most concerning technology I saw at the conference— the effects on human health are entirely untested.

Even so, Intel’s demonstration of wireless charging was not the most worrisome type of this new technology previewed at CES.

The solution demonstrated by Intel requires that your devices be in contact with the charging surface (as does a competing solution demonstrated by BroadCom and one from iNPOFi, whose wireless charging solution was named an “Best of Innovation Award Honoree” at the conference). This requirement that the charger and the device must be in contact with each other, means that it is possible for you to stay away from the charger when it is in use, and the ambient emissions should be relatively low (though, again, I would like to see any of these manufacturers post information on the EMF emissions from their devices).

Much more concerning is the WattUp technology demonstrated by Energous and the offerings from startup WiTricity— as well as the fact that the Rezence specification was recently updated to accommodate charging over distance. These technologies allow for devices to be charged wirelessly, without making any contact, over a distance of 20′. As Engadget reports:

Energous’ system is called WattUp, and it works using a mix of RF, Bluetooth and a lot of patent-pending technology. The transmitter is where most of the magic happens. It communicates with and locates compatible devices using low-energy Bluetooth. Once they’ve established contact with a device, they send out focused RF signals on the same bands as WiFi that are then absorbed and converted into DC power by a tiny chip embedded in the device. These transmitters can be built into household appliances, TVs, speakers and standalone “energy routers.”

That means that the environment around these types of wireless chargers is literally filled with free flowing power— much more than standard WiFi or cordless phones would create. Indeed, one article about wireless charging tech from CES had an unusually honest quote from an anonymous executive of a major hardware company:

“I don’t think I would want to be in a room with free moving power signals,” an executive with a leading hardware technology company said on the condition of anonymity.

We are increasingly surrounded by radiation from wireless devices everywhere we go, and at every moment in our lives. That’s a trend that keeps on continuing, and has already led many (including the World Health Organization) to issue warnings about the risks to human health.

The shift to wireless power, however, represents an order-of-magnitude leap in the amount of EMF radiation that inundates our bodies.

Wireless charging is already being rolled out to specific Starbucks locations in the US and McDonald’s restaurants in the UK, as well as certain models of new Toyotas and Cadillac vehicles. Verizon is already selling phones with integrated support for wireless charging.

It’s yet another EMF-emitting technology being released on the market without any testing whatsoever on its real risks to human health. As Engadget recently wrote in an article about how Haier plans to incorporate wireless charging into home appliances like dish washers:

“Wireless charging is a little bit more convenient than plugging your device in, but was picking up a microUSB lead ever that much of a chore in the first place?…Then there’s the question of if it wouldn’t be damaging to health in the same way that people have raised concerns about living next to electrical substations?”

Seems like the type of question that manufacturers should be forced to answer before releasing wireless charging to consumers worldwide.