Starbucks puts Israeli phone charging tech in shops

The coffee chain is set to deploy thousands of Powermat’s wireless charging pads, thanks to a new partnership

A cellphone recharging on a Powermat Spot at a California Starbucks (Photo credit: Courtesy)
A cellphone recharging on a Powermat Spot at a California Starbucks (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Tables in Starbucks coffee shops are to be outfitted with Israeli-developed Powermat charging pad technology, where customers can place their compatible devices and charge them wirelessly.

Powermat pads have already been installed in some Starbucks location in San Jose and Boston, with more locations to be outfitted during the coming months, first in the US, and then in Europe and Asia.

The Powermats are being marketed by battery manufacturer Duracell, a subsidiary of Proctor & Gamble which partnered with the Israeli company in 2011 to market the technology in the US. It’s just one of many partnerships Powermat has entered into with US giants. In 2011, the company made a deal with General Motors to include Powermat technology in Chevy Volt electric car models. In 2012 Powermats began appearing in airports in Chicago, Aspen, Omaha and Toronto, where they give users the ability to recharge their devices in airports that are usually sparsely outfitted with electrical outlets.

In addition to Starbucks, rival coffee chain Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is deploying Powermats in a pilot project in several Los Angeles locations. McDonald’s, he biggest chain of all, is experimenting with Powermats at several Manhattan outlets.

Powermat advertises its pads as providing “wireless power” to charge devices, but it doesn’t pull electrical charges from the air. The Powermat pad needs to be plugged into a normal power source, but the devices themselves can be recharged by laying them on the charging pad. The pads employ electromagnetic induction, which uses magnetic fields to produce electricity which can then be transferred to a device without wires. The pads are low-power (5 to 50 watts), so users can lay down not only their devices, but their coffee cups as well, with no negative consequences. Up to six devices can be charged on a pad that is connected to a single electricity source, Powermat says.

The special conductor required to take advantage of electromagnetic induction is already built into many modern devices, but even older smartphones can use the technology when they are outfitted with a case that contains the conductor. The standards for the technology were authored by the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), which certifies devices and equipment that work with the standards.

“Starbucks is transforming the way consumers get power to their phones, in much the same way it made Wi-Fi a standard amenity in public places. This endeavor is a critical step in Duracell’s vision to make dead battery anxiety a thing of the past,” said Stassi Anastassov, president of Duracell at Procter & Gamble. “When Starbucks introduced Wi-Fi in their stores in 2001, 95 percent of devices didn’t have Wi-Fi, and multiple standards hampered the industry. The rest is history. Starbucks plan to offer Powermat nationally is likely to settle any lingering standards question, and usher wireless power into the mainstream.”

“Powermat Spots in Starbucks are the result of almost a decade of scientific research spanning material sciences, magnetic induction and mesh networking,” said Ran Poliakine, CEO of Powermat Technologies. “The two-pronged power-plug dates back to the era of the horse-drawn carriage, so that today’s announcement marks the first meaningful upgrade to the way we access power in well over a century.”

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