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Ep. 48: Maria Singer of Powercast

Interview by Jonathan Kersting

Summer of 50 PGH Tech Stories

Powercast Corporation is the leader in radio-frequency (RF)-based over-the-air wireless power technology and it just released its first production units of its Wireless Charging Grip for Nintendo Switch Joy-Con Controllers. Maria Singer tells us how it's the world’s first gaming product that charges over the air without wires or charging mats. Summer of 50 PGH Tech Stories is powered by Comcast!





Our Summer of 50 Pittsburgh Tech Stories just keeps rumbling on. And I can't believe it's like we only got a few of these left left. I'm all fired up because we have a really awesome company when he played me I even heard about, but they're working on some really cool stuff across the spectrum. But what got my attention was this release of a wireless charging grip for the Nintendo SwitchJoy Con controller, which I am not a gaming guy. So I had to read that thing a couple times, because I just knew nothing about it. I left video games in 1987. But this is good stuff. And I'm really excited to talk to Maria Singer  from Powercast who's bringing this product to market? So Maria, thanks for hanging out with me today. Thanks for being part of our 50 summer stories with Comcast here. Thanks for being here.

Yeah, absolutely. We've been a member of the Technology Council for more years and I've been with the company. Now it's such a cool story like we've been, he sent me the press release. I was like, Oh, I got to talk to Maria about this. This will make for a great a great storage. It's not often you see one of our companies building something like this. And the best part is it's wireless. Before we jump into this product, just give us a little background about power cast and everything like that. So can you guys do so many different types of things?

Yeah, we have a very horizontal technology. So Powercast was founded actually out of a small office in Regent Square and 2003. And we're the pioneers in long range wireless power. So wireless power. You know, when people hear about wireless charging, what you think of is cheap, you know what you the pad that you set your cell phone on, and it recharges right? We don't need contact we charge from feet to sometimes up to meters away. Wow. See, that's what blows my mind is that something's being charged through the air.

So it's the technology the way that it works is Have a power transmitter which transmits radio waves radio energy into the air and it works pretty much the same way as like your Wi Fi router does it's just a different frequency of energy and then our micro trips can take that energy that radio energy and turn DC power so the same that comes out of your wall socket right and we can charge small electronics our sensors luminate LEDs we get a new new project pretty much every day it's something new what to do with that wireless power.

That is so cool and I love his he started in Region square my own neighborhood, which I think is totally rad. So I'd love to know where exactly in Region square that was, because that's a cool, that's a cool thing.

So what I hear is it was a small fist above Murphy's tap room.

Oh, I would know exactly where that is that that was again before my time, but yeah, we were right here, startup out of University of Pittsburgh. Actually, that's that's so cool. I love hearing about things that spin out of universities and they build cool products. So what are some of the You guys work with them? We're gonna jump into this new product. I'm sorry. Yeah. What are some of the industries that you guys kind of work with? Where Who were some of your meeting like kind of customers and stuff like that?

Yeah, so industries, like I said, it's so horizontal. And we always have a new customer from some other industry coming at us. And we're like that that would be, you know, an application for our technology. But we work a lot in the industrial sensor space. So like, sensors on rotating our machinery where maybe you can't run a wire to it because it'll break a lot and like that area, as well as medical sensors, and now really pushing the consumer space because as you see devices keep getting smaller batteries keep getting smaller. technology keeps getting more efficient. So it's a perfect place for us now, because one thing to understand about our technology is it's very low power. So while I could charge your cell phone with it, it's going to take a long time, so something with a smaller battery, like joi con controllers, for example, those could recharge in a reasonable amount of time.

Like your segway? That's very, very cool. So let's talk about this joy con controller said, I'm not a gamer I admitted like, I'm the lamest dude ever. My nephew's like play video game to me I'm like, now I can't do it I stuck.

To start off for anybody who's not super familiar with this switch gaming system. It's a really cool system because it can be handheld, or like a traditional console that you play on your TV. Right? So what you have is actually have some joi con controllers coming to show us I like this very cool, you take the joi con controllers, and if you're playing on your TV, you just play with them like normal controllers, if you have to have them around. Or if you want to play in tablet mode, you just kind of slide them into the tablet, and it's a Gameboy. So it's a really cool system. It's been around for a couple years now. But what kind of stinks about it is if your controllers start to die, you have to dock them and you have to play in tablet mode. So if you were pulling the middle of playing Mario Kart with your friends, as I always am Yes.

So that was kind of the issue that spawned us wanting to create a wireless rechargeable controller for them. Okay. And some of our employees who have kids that play, the kids have never played the controllers and then they get upset, you know, the next time they love it. Okay, this is inspired by employees and some of their kids.

So we're like, how can we solve these two issues with our technology, so, the grip, it looks like some other ones that are on the market. So the joi con controllers, I got it backwards here. They just kind of slide right down in Okay, and make it easier to play with them. So instead of having two controllers that you play with, yeah, there is one there, right. The traditional, you know, Gameboy, whatever style you want to call it, you can play with both of them, but whenever the controllers are in here, they are able to be wirelessly recharged with one of our transmitters.

Ah, very cool.

Actually a battery is in here, the battery that's embedded recharges, which then charges the Joy Cons, okay, what that means is Like let's say your kids playing with their their joi con controllers, you can set this down and just charge this so that whenever the Joy Cons die, all you got to do is plug it in as a backup battery and they're ready to go. Oh man slick. I like it. This makes me want to almost start playing video games. That is so cool. It's so people can buy these on Amazon now, right?

Yeah, yeah, they're available on Amazon. It's actually a bundle package. So in the bundle pack you actually it does not come with joy cons, but that's something you get with your switch gaming system anyways, you get a wireless charging grip, and then one of our power spot transmitters. So this is what actually does the charging. So you set these down on the table next to one another like this and it recharges over distance cool. How far apart Can you make them before they stopped charging.

So we recommend like maximum distance of about a foot so the grip has an LED right here. And the LED will flash different colors depending on how fast it's charging.

Nice you can tell how far away you are by how that how the LEDs slipped in there. So yeah, exactly. So ideally, you want it to blink green, which is going to be typically within a few inches. But you can go out until it starts blinking yellow or red. Red is not recommended, but it'll still be charging. It'll be like this slower right now it was mid range charging, and green is as fast as you can go.

See, I totally love the world without wires. It's just so much cleaner and better. I just think that's so cool. And the fact that power cast does and you can range from something really slick, like a controller all the way to like industrial applications and machinery. That's gonna make your job a lot of fun. It's gonna never be the same day twice. Yeah. When you're working at power cams, right?

As I said earlier, we always have really interesting companies coming to us with really interesting problems I didn't know existed. So yeah, every day is a new challenge and keeps it fresh for us.

Very cool. So how's the reception been to the the new wireless setup on Amazon so far? Where people picking these things up?

Yeah, yeah, we've definitely we had a nice Denton sales event. First day, actually to the point where Amazon was warning people like only 10 left in stock. Oh, cool. Nice. Okay.

We had to re up our Amazon shipments. So that just means we shipped them to the Amazon warehouses. So that was nice. Yep, we're selling them on Amazon. We've been working with some game reviewers as well to hopefully, you know, get some honest reviews out there. And yeah, it's been super positive so far.

Is this one, the first consumer type products you guys put out in the marketplace?

Yeah, so the the wireless charging group is the first of a suite of products that can recharge from the power spot transmitter. So we launched the transmitter itself. Two years ago, I think it's been 2018. So the transmitter has been on the market, but the grip is the first product that can actually recharge from it. So more more coming. First one that you can get on Amazon, but the the transmitter also works with some of our development tools, as well. 

Yeah, can you give us a little taste of what we might be seeing in the future is it more of is around gaming type applications or different types of segments?

Yeah, so I can give you a little taste of course I can't everything um so one thing like I said to remember is that our technology is inherently low power so we're going to be focusing on those smaller devices around your home around your you know, computer desk so things that we've demonstrated in the past I'll start there artist wireless gaming mouse's and keyboards and headphones.

Okay, yeah, earbuds man. That'd be sweet.

Yeah, cuz I know that right now. I have a pair of earbuds and trying to get the little USB and paying the butt

Yeah, see that's why I like a world without wires or stuff like that. That just makes it pretty cool or just like it's been charged. I just love it man through the airway. It's super cool stuff. What a great story that's why I was so pumped to talk to you today Maria cuz I just love seeing a Pittsburgh company that started in Region square, but Murphy's taproom building really cool technology like this and your first foray into the company. sumur marketplace it's so exciting for you guys. I mean, it's like a whole new business you're opening up your Powercast. It really is because yeah, I know with I've been here just again for the last two years now but seeing that segue to us being very industrial and commercial focus to launching the world's first wireless you returnable consumer anything the shift in both kind of our our internal like morale and the the way that the external sees us, it's just, it's a lot. It's great.

I love it all the way around. I think that is just fantastic stuff. So glad you got to talk to me today about what power gas is up to congrats on your launch. I'm so glad like Amazon was saying there's only 10 left people. Yeah, it must be popular. They're buying it. It's got to be. Um, do I see

like it says there's only 10 left. Are there more available? And I'm like, Yes, there's on a truck. They're shipping to Amazon right now.

That's so cool. And that is such a cool story. Really, you're the best. Thanks for hanging out with me and Comcast. Tell the story like you said, You were like story like number like 48 We're almost done, but we're gonna keep telling more stories, that's for sure. Because there's so many stories like yours out there. We're gonna keep on trucking. That's for sure. Thank you so much.

Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

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