Nikola Labs

New Smartphone Case Charges Your Phone by Harvesting Electricity From The Air

11 MAY 2015

Set to launch on crowd-funding site Kickstarter next month, we will soon be able to buy an iPhone case that harvests electricity from the air. Developed by US-based technology start-up, Nikola Labs, this new device will convert these ambient radio frequencies into power - boosting your phone charge for up to 30 percent longer.


Phones typically waste about 90 percent of their energy trying to pump out a phone signal. This means that even when your phone's not in use, it's transmitting radio signals to find networks to connect to. So Rob Lee, former chair of the Electronic Engineering Department at Ohio State University, teamed up with entrepeneur, Will Zell, to figure out a way to keep it charged up at all times.

In 1891, fan-favourite inventor, Nikola Tesla, pioneered the transmission of electricity over wires. This built on the work of German physicist, Heinrich Hertz, who was at the same time proving that radio waves could be transmitted wirelessly. It's now 200 years later, but we're still using 19th century technology to power 21st century devices, Zell said last week at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York. Why are we still scurrying around, looking for outlets to charge our phones? "It's a terrible, terrible problem," he says

To combat this, the Nikola Lab device has an antenna that picks up the ambient waves. It then uses what's known as a rectifier circuit to convert the alternating current into a direct current, which it puts back into the phone. "It's actually working off the energy of the phone itself," he says.

The device works while the case is on the phone, with no need to be anywhere near any special devices, external power supply or antennas. In this sense, it’s entirely portable, and can be used wherever you take your phone - without having to plug anything in. 

This is just the first of many products the team plans to release using the technology, which has the potential to work on devices such as wearable technology, embedded sensors and medical devices.

The case will cost around $124AUD ($99USD), and will ship within four months of purchase. The team plans to lauch a Samsung case not long after.