Resonant Link plans to roll out its first long-range smartphone charger to the public this year

Resonant Link co-founder Phyo Aung Kyaw on Monday, January 9, 2023 in South Burlington. Photo by: Glenn Russell/VTDigger

SOUTH BURLINGTON – It’s 9:30 a.m. at Resonant Link’s headquarters, in an industrial park next to Ben & Jerry’s, and nearly every cubicle is empty for two reasons, says Rachel, the company’s marketing director. Rachel Allard (Rachel Allard) explains: Come late, work late, the company has room for explosive growth in hiring this year, from the current 48 employees to about 80 by the end of the year.

“As you can see, we do need to move in and do something,” Allard said.

Resonant Link moved into new offices last spring. The company is headquartered in Shelburne. Fifteen months ago, it had seven employees. By the end of 2021, it had 18 members, including founders Aaron Stein, Phyo Aung Kyaw and Grayson Zulauf. Last year, it hired another 30 people.

“They’re exactly what our Vermont economy needs,” said Lauren Bass, director of Burlington-based business accelerator LaunchVT. Resonant Link was accepted as one of eight companies in LaunchVT’s 2020 enterprise cohort. The businesses receive mentoring and training, and meet with investors.

“We need the next Resonant Links, we need the next Betas,” Bass said, referring to Burlington-based electric aircraft maker Beta Technologies. “They own (intellectual property). They’re in tech. They’re creating low-end jobs, high five-figure jobs for Vermonters. They’re attracting talent.”

Just as important, Bass said, is that Resonant Link is raising money outside of Vermont.

“They’re some of the best investors around,” Bass said. “They’re market makers, they’re institutional money, and that’s the highest level of validation in terms of telling the public and the market, because they believe this business is going to grow, so someone did serious due diligence.”

Resonant Link’s employees are now located in 12 states and three countries.

“People will be working on boards or circuits or whatever,” Allard said. “They’d send it overnight to a colleague in Denver. And that person could work on the same physical hardware.”

Founded in 2017, Resonant Link builds on its revolutionary approach to wirelessly transmit power using coils made of foil layers and thin-film dielectrics, an electrical insulator that can be polarized by an applied electric field.

“The way we make the coil is completely different than traditional wireless chargers,” said Zulauf, CEO of Resonant Link. “Our product is made with alternating layers of aluminum foil, like you can buy at the grocery store and shoot it, rather than what everyone else does, where they basically take a braided wire and wrap it in a circle.”

The technology uses one-fifth the power of other existing wireless technologies, Zulauf said. It was developed by Stein and Kyaw in the laboratory of Professor Charles Sullivan, Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire.

“It’s really exciting that Charlie has the original idea for this new wireless coil,” said Stein, Resonant Link’s CTO.

The idea is a resonant link in the company’s naming.

Stein, who worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College, worked with Kyaw to bring Sullivan’s ideas to life in his lab. They found that the wireless coil worked 5 to 10 times more efficiently than other coils. Allard explained that they knew that by calculating a coefficient called Q, which measures the energy stored divided by the energy expended during wireless transmission, they essentially determined how much energy was being transmitted to the receiver rather than being dissipated.

“Suddenly, we had this exciting result,” Stein said.

They brought their results to meetings and found people excited, Stein said. So they think they should commercialize their idea. Stein wrote a grant application for the National Science Foundation to fund the company and get it off the ground. In 2018, they received nearly $225,000 in grants.

“After that, we had a little bit of money and some people with big ambitions, and we set out to see what we could do from there,” Stein said.

Stein says all of their clients need to gain strength through some hard-to-get power. Their medical customers need to deliver power through the human body to devices without overheating them. Their forklift customers must get as much energy as possible through the air without expending too much energy that can heat surrounding objects and make them unsafe to touch or cause parts to fail.

“The difficulty is that you have to create a large magnetic field to transfer energy across the air gap,” Stein said.

The company’s technology can wirelessly power electronic devices, from tiny 20-milliwatt medical devices to 19.2-kilowatt forklift chargers.

A molar implant for diagnostic saliva manufactured by Resonant Link is seen in South Burlington, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo by: Glenn Russell/VTDigger

At company headquarters, Allard opens a drawer and pulls out the smallest charger the company makes—a molar implant—and holds it in the palm of his hand. She said she used to tell people it was the size of a fingernail, but it was actually much smaller at 3mm in diameter.

Resonant Link’s customers want the saliva test as the new blood test, Allard said. The implant is a wireless charging receiver designed to fit in a retainer or sit on top of a tooth like a crown. It will power an additional saliva diagnostic tool that will detect biomarkers that can help diagnose diseases ranging from diabetes to throat cancer.

The device could eventually be used to power electronics that control seizures in epilepsy patients, Allard said. In this case, the charger’s transmitter could be placed in a pillow and charge an implanted device while the patient sleeps, or in a headband or hat, she said.

The largest medical device charger the company is developing is for a left ventricular assist device, the device that pumps the heart, and is one-half to one-fifth the size of existing chargers, she said. The charger can be worn in the vest.

Wireless chargers for medical devices eliminate the need for surgery to replace implanted batteries or run wires outside the body to connect to external chargers. In addition to being bulky, wires can lead to infection, Allard said.

Resonant Link’s medical device chargers work at a distance of four to six centimeters, Allard said.

“If you’re thinking about something on your mind, you can basically put the charger in your breast pocket,” she said. “The possibilities are almost endless.”

In the past, materials for implantable receivers were limited because they had to be biocompatible so the body wouldn’t reject them or overheat, she noted.

Allard said Resonant Link’s medical device charger complies with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirement that prohibits medical devices from heating human tissue above 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The company’s medical chargers are currently being tested on animals. After human trials, Zulauf said he expects the first FDA approval next year.

Resonant Link won’t disclose its customers, but Zulauf said it’s working with 12 medical device makers. The company is also working with a major smartphone maker, Allard said. Resonant Link hopes to have smartphone chargers on store shelves by the end of the year, in time for the holidays, she said.

Smartphone wireless chargers are already on the market. One of the things that sets the Resonant Link apart is its more flexible charger, Allard said.

“We’ve all been frustrated with wireless chargers, you have to put it in exactly one place to make it work,” Allard said. “Our chargers have to adapt to the way people live and work.”

Resonant Link’s smartphone charger is twice as far from the phone as any competitor, Allard said. It’s also faster, she said. The electronics are constantly monitoring the power being transmitted to send the most power at any given time, but not overcharge, which can damage the battery over time, she said.

“So these guys keep saying, ‘How much power are you receiving, battery? Okay, not bad. I’ve got to tweak it a little bit,'” she said.

More than a billion electronic devices, mostly smartphones, have wireless charging built in, Zulauf said. Resonant Link plans to launch a charger later this year that plugs directly into those phones, he said. The company’s chargers cost the same as existing coils, he said.

“When you put our coil in a phone, you can wirelessly charge the phone almost three times as fast as you can now,” Zulauf said.

Customers need to be convinced that wireless charging can be fast enough, small enough, light enough and cheap enough that it’s worth their time to integrate, Zulauf said.

“So people have become convinced of what wireless power can do for them,” he said. “They’ve been waiting for a company that can deliver on the promise of wireless power.”

Existing wireless forklift chargers require the forklift to come within an inch or two of the charger, Allard said. Forklifts are similar to forklifts, but have a tighter turning radius and can work in tight spaces in warehouses.

“Have you ever tried parking the forklift an inch or two from the base station?” she asked. “We wanted to make it easy to use by not having to park perfectly.”

Resonant Link’s base station contains a power coil used to charge the forklift up to 10 feet away from the power electronics in the transmitter, explained Skyler Cornell, an electrical engineer who has been working on the charger. Power electronics regulate how much power is used. The transmitter wirelessly sends a charge to a receiver on the truck up to 10 inches away. The charger can charge lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries. Allard said the system works with both manually-operated and autonomous vehicles.

When Cornell demonstrated the charging sequence, the charger jumped from zero to 400 amps in less than a second.

“Nobody has been able to hit 400 amps yet, so that level of power is critical to charging speed,” Allard said. “Essentially, they are related.”

Cornell explained that Resonant Link’s wireless forklift charger is 90 percent efficient, meaning 90 percent of the energy transmitted wirelessly is received.

There are other wireless chargers for forklifts on the market, but they are only 40% to 50% efficient, Allard said.

Efficiency affects how quickly a forklift can be charged, Allard said.

“In a warehouse, every minute counts,” she said.

Resonant Link’s charger can charge a forklift two to four times faster than any other wireless charger on the market, Zulauf said.

When an object such as a wrench is placed between the transmitter and receiver, the charger turns off, as Allard showed in a demo. A person wouldn’t be injured by being caught between the two, but an object could heat up to the point where it could burn someone trying to pick it up, she said.

“Warehouses are super chaotic environments,” Allard said.

If someone touches the battery on the forklift while it’s charging, Allard said, it’ll feel warm, but it won’t hurt anyone.

Allard said the company expects to ship an initial production unit of its forklift charger to a limited number of customers for testing in March before beginning mass production later this year.

“The Resonant Link has the opportunity to revolutionize power and energy and how it is transmitted,” Stein said. “I think Resonant Link will be a key player in driving power and energy forward.”

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