For many of us, it’s easy to overlook how incredible our communications capabilities are. We have little devices in our pockets that can instantly fling a message across the world, pinging that message to massive cell towers that further carry the message along its path. If you were to show your phone to someone from just 20 years ago, they’d look at it as if it was some sort of arcane magic. Research is constantly being done to improve their communication abilities, and a pair of researchers at Northeastern University are focusing on taking these efforts to the next level.
Research Assistant Professor Yousof Naderi and Professor and Associate Chair of Research Kaushik Chowdhury are a part of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department within Northeastern’s College of Engineering. Together, the pair founded the startup company DeepCharge, dedicated to creating better, more powerful wireless charging systems with applications to a plethora of devices. To that point, the pair were recently awarded two patents: one for their revolutionary wireless charging system that is highly adaptable for multiple devices, and another for encoding and decoding data in communications frames of a communications protocol. With the latter technology, Naderi and Chowdhury have introduced a method to increase the efficiency of existing communications frameworks (i.e., LTE) without physically overhauling the hardware; essentially, they have found a way to maximize the efficiency of a system without requiring costly rework.
For Naderi and Chowdhury, the name of the game was to optimize for convenience. “People today are just not happy with the charging experience – carrying different chargers around, forgetting chargers or forgetting to charge,” Naderi says. With their new wireless charging system, the goal was to “bring 10x more convenience to the user.” Chowdhury adds, “instead of having a ton of different chargers, why not just have one that covers it all?” The system prioritizes ease of use—it requires minimal set-up and engages with devices anywhere on its charging surface.
Most importantly, the system acts as a groundwork for future systems to be built off. “This system is going to play a role in what we’re calling the Next-Generation Wireless Charging System,” Naderi notes. “This patent covers the architecture that will enable to build multiple families of future patents on top of it.” As useful as the technology is on its own, they’ve constructed it in a way that invites further innovation.
In a similar vein, their work on a new encoding and decoding system for data will serve customers that use that technology daily. As previously mentioned, this technology will enhance current infrastructure. “Basically, we’re improving existing systems without the increase in cost that comes from new hardware,” Naderi says. “We are improving the communications without asking the device makers to spend money on improvements – and this can come in a variety of devices, like satellite and other wireless communications.” By coming up with a method for optimization, they have saved countless dollars while simultaneously improving the overall experience for customers.
When it comes to making creative innovations like this, Naderi and Chowdhury start wide and narrow things down. They start by brainstorming alongside their students, where they begin to formulate high impact ideas. “It starts with curiosity from the top of the team on topics in our expertise,” Naderi recalls. From there, their scope begins to narrow as they focus on singular concepts, seeing if they can prove what they are working towards. “The teamwork, the group work, it all plays a key role in this stage,” says Naderi. For this team, going in with a specific aim for a patent is not the goal; instead, it’s about finding an idea that works and, if possible, fitting it into a patent later. “It’s about connecting the dots from previous problems and previous works we’ve done,” notes Naderi.
Along the way, the Center for Research Innovation (CRI) has been a strong ally for Naderi and Chowdhury in their research. “Our relationship with CRI has been essential to our innovation and commercialization for our lab,” says Naderi. For the past 10 years, the CRI has played a key role in securing patents for Naderi. The CRI has played a supportive role throughout the entire process, from materializing ideas into patent applications, to the providing entrepreneurial enterprise; this also applies to their startup DeepCharge, as the CRI has been integral in supporting its launch and integrating it within the industry. “[CRI] has been helpful in not only securing IP, but also in mentoring and suggestions for commercialization,” Naderi recalls.
As previously mentioned, Naderi and Chowdhury don’t approach their work with a singular focus in mind. “Part of what makes it interesting is the uncertainty of it all, and having the patience and resolve to push forward,” notes Naderi. They look for something that is not only practical but could be beneficial to a diverse audience. “We don’t do research for the sake of research, but for something that will have an impact,” Naderi says. Utility for a wide range of users is a key motivator for them and informed their most recent work on the patents. Communication is an integral part of our everyday lives, and this duo saw a way to make it better – “that’s what drives us – to make something new that has an even higher impact.”