Chris Griffith – Senior Technology Journalist at The Australian

12 February 2020

Chris Griffith is a senior technology journalist with The Australian newspaper. He specializes in computer and device reviews but also writes general IT news. He holds a science degree with majors in computer science and pure mathematics (Monash University) and an arts degree with a double major in journalism (University of Queensland).

In this episode, recorded In Feb 2020, we discuss wireless power, with a focus on Australia.

Yuval Boger(Chief Marketing Officer, Wi-Charge, @TheChargeGuy): Hello Chris, and thanks for joining me today.

Chris Griffith (author at The Australian): Nice to talk with you, Yuval.

Yuval: So, who are you and what do you do?

Chris: Well, I’m the senior tech reporter at The Australian newspaper, which is basically Australia’s only national general daily newspaper. I’m based in Sydney. I’ve been writing tech for 10 years, but I also have a tech background. I studied technology back in the 1970s. I did my first student programming in late 1960s, would you believe? And taught it, and then ran a small business basically networking PCs in the 1980s. So, I’ve had that background. At the same time, I got involved in journalism, in a whole variety of different issues. But my paper, when I moved to The Australian, kind of said, “Well look, You’ve got a tech background, and write in journalism Why don’t you actually write in this area?” So I said, “Why not?” And I’ve been doing it now for a decade or so.

I’ve got a particular interest. We deal mainly in digital technology, obviously phones and TVs and WiFi and all kinds of devices. But we have a pretty broad charter as well. We’ll look at other aspects of the digital scene, startups, businesses, enterprises, what’s happening between the big companies in the tech landscape. But even beyond that, recently I’ve been writing a bit, in fact, this week I wrote a bit about technology, materials technology for building fire-resistant homes.

You no doubt have heard we’ve had unprecedented bush fires here in Australia in virtually most of the states of the country all at the same time, and there’s been more than 3,000 buildings and homes that were destroyed. A lot of them were wooden structures that had been there for years, had been in the hands of people, their parents, and grandparents, and so they’re old structures. And so, the issue now is, given that we’re going to have hotter climate and drier climate and with climate change predictions, worst kind of bush fires, should we be building totally differently. So, we’ve got this interest in that type of technology as well.

But certainly, in the digital space, I like to look at things in CES that I think are innovative and unusual and have a big future and a big potential. Certainly, Wi-Charge was amongst those when I was at CES, because being able to charge devices in a room without needing to actually change the batteries, I think is highly advantageous. I can think of, and I’m sure you know more than I do, use cases for that.

Yuval: Excellent. So, curious about the tech market or the tech adoption in Australia. When you look at some of the revolutions in recent years, whether it’s cellular technology or wifi or electric cars, do you find that Australia adopts them, say before the US, after the US, roughly at the same time?

Chris: Well, that’s a very interesting question because it’s in different areas. As you might know, our CSIRO, which is our big science organization here, was inventor of wifi and had patents and made millions and millions of dollars out of its adoption in the earlier days. So, wifi was a big thing that did come out of Australia. But if we look at other areas, as a tech market, Australia tends to be an early adopter of phones and digital devices mainly because there’s a big interest in it over here, a lot of people are really interested to technology.

And also, we are for a lot of companies, the ideal test market. We are kind of, I guess not the same but seen as a bit similar in makeup to, say, the US. It’s a small country of 20 million. There’s been plenty of cases where phone companies have actually decided before they go to the US, to use us as a sand … what’d you call it? A sand pit. Australia is a perfect sandpit to try out tech devices before they put a lot of money into distribution networks in larger markets. We’ve seen that quite a bit as well.

In other areas, we’ve had quite a big development here with international tech companies. I’ve just this morning come from an event which was the 15th anniversary of Google Maps. Google Maps was originally, a lot of it was developed in Sydney by Google. They have a development office here and a lot of the initial work in it was done here. In fact, I attended an address this morning by one of the co-founders of digital Google Maps, and he had these old screens of what they had on their whiteboards. He was showing them slides and stuff, the original discussions about it. So, we’ve been early in that sense.

There’s been probably when it comes to more climate-sensitive things, there’s been a fair bit of, shall we say, skepticism about climate change here, and we’ve got a big mining industry. I could go a lot into all of that but to cut a long story short, adopting EVs and addressing climate change has been an issue in this country. But we still have a healthy interest in EVs and they’re starting to catch on. I think something like … we’ve got 100% increase in a year or two years in EVs being taken up here.

Renewables are very, very strongly … There’s strong development of renewables here irrespective of what government policy is, mainly because we have lots of sun; hot, huge areas which are undeveloped, which are perfect for actually putting wind farms in and big panel farms as well. So, actual renewable energy sources here are fairly big. And see, the question of integrating them with the regular power supply and all the politics that goes on surrounding that, that’s more the issue than our adoption of renewables.

We don’t tend to make a lot of digital technology these days. We did, in the early days, produce computers here. The Osborne computer was one and so on, but over time, we’ve been an importer of our phones and computers and that type of technology.

Yuval: Given that, as you look at wireless power, long-range wireless power, and by now you’re familiar with Wi-Charge.

Chris: Yes.

Yuval:  We are a couple of times at CES. Where do you see, in Australia, what types of applications do you see as most compelling for long-range wireless power? Is it in the smart home? Is it in the factory? Is it in public spaces? What’s your best guess on where things will catch on?

Chris: I think we’re going to see with the rollout of 5G, a kind of use case of it and wifi type wireless in places. We know 5G can be like the network, but it can also be a local network. We’ll see interplays between it and wifi, and in some cases, people might have beyond on 5G, and when they go home they’ll be on a kind of local 5G, and to some extent, 5G might actually be like wifi.

But if we go out round and about, we’ve got in our national broadband network, which includes a lot of fiber networks. We’ve also got wifi, sort of wide-area networks. CSIRO, again, our science agency has developed a kind of, if you like, a shotgun form of wifi where they can send it over a valley for many, many kilometers. It’s a narrow beam, so it doesn’t scatter the wifi like in a normal broadcast. But the idea was that you could avoid some cabling and have fairly fast, very long distance wifi by … if you’re concentrating it in a beam from one part to another, as long as there were direct sites. So, there’s been work done in that as well.

I’d say wide area networks in wifi will continue to be useful, but 5G is going to have an increasing role there. And there has been this idea we can use wifi for longer distance, rural communications if you’re looking at longer range things.

Yuval: How does wireless power play in that field, you think?

Chris: Do you mean in terms of the rollout? Well, it’s a bit hard to say because there’s been such a big fiber rollout around the place, but certainly wide area networks are part of our national digital network, the broadband network I referred to, to some extent. But the other interesting areas I suppose though, the continuing to be in the home, in factories and shopping centers, and internal use as well, internal use of wifi and that for directions, and sort of tracking inside of buildings and so on.

Yuval: Understood. One thing that we’ve been thinking about is, how do we price a long-range wireless power. Do people want to pay for it just like they pay for a wifi router where they buy it once and that’s it, or do they want to pay a monthly service? Or do they want to pay by energy consumption? A little bit like their utility bill? What’s your opinion?

Chris: Well, what I can say, here I mean wifi devices are just like anything else at home. They just use some of your power and presumably not too much. We tend to own them rather than rent them, and if they are given out by the providers, the telcos, all that, they tend to be part of a deal that you’ll take a contract 12 months or two years and you aren’t necessarily charged for them because they’re only a couple hundred dollars or whatever. So, we tend to own those and people pay for more their usage, the gigabytes. If they’re not on an open plan, they’ll be paying for that, which seems to be the major main cost and bits of power. But that’s about it in that area. I mean there’s other things that tend to cost a lot, in particular, data usage.

Yuval: Excellent. You saw Wi-Charge at CES and our ability to deliver power over distance. If you were in charge of our engineering department, what would you have us work on for the next two years or so?

Chris: Well, I think the concept is there. The question is getting the integration with that, with devices that are out there. If it was me, I’d say it looks like the technology’s there. The issue is, can you talk to the makers of keyboards and computers and other devices to have the receiving ends of them integrated. At that stage, then you can have one of your infrared devices up in the corner there in your room, and you’ll then be able to use it. It’s the question of the availability of those devices, on availability of your little … what looked almost like USB thumb drives in size, them being available. So, I’d say getting it connected to a whole lot of devices.

I can think of some interesting use cases. One of the quirky devices that I’ve liked the last couple of years, it’s called the Meural Canvas. It’s originally a New York startup that has been taken over by Netgear. They actually allow you to put up something that looks just like a normal art frame on a wall, but you’re connected, but it’s electric and you connect to something like hundreds of galleries and collections around the world, and you can cue whatever painting you like to appear on your wall. It looks like a genuine painting. But the one problem at the moment is it needs a lead to connect up to the PowerPoint, and unless you go to a lot of trouble, get one installed behind it, you’re going to end up with a cord going between that device and the floor. Whereas I could imagine that could be easily countered by … it’s just a screen, by one of your transmitters.

There’s things like that wherein a home, not just the convenience of a keyboard and a mouse, which a wireless keyboard or wireless mouse, you don’t have the batteries in, but devices where they’re not conveniently located near power points, where this could be great. I mean, it’ll get security cameras. I don’t know if you’d want to put that reliance on them, but like the Netgear Arlo ones, and ones by Google as well, the idea these days is they can be battery-powered, but you could have those being trickle charged by one of your device, or more of them. I think it’s a question of integration with all the devices that I think that’s going to take that forward.

Yuval: Absolutely, and I think both are great ideas. At CES, we did show integration with an Arlo camera, but-

Chris: Right, okay.

Yuval: Sounds like we’re moving in the right direction.

Chris: I think so. I mean, I think it sounds like you’re fairly confident that you’ve got the gear to do it. I suppose you need to see if you can go beyond four watts, I think it was, in terms of power transmission or getting the maximal out of that and being able to have coverage around the corners of a room I suppose. But yeah, pretty cool stuff.

Yuval: Excellent. So, Chris, how can people get in touch with you or learn more about the work that you’re doing?

Chris: Yeah, sure. As I said, I’m at The Australian. We have a website, theaustralian.com.au. If you go /business/technology, you’ll find me there. I’m on Twitter, chris_griffith and chris_griffith. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, you name it. My email address is griffithc, griffithc@theaustralian.com.au.

Yuval: That’s perfect. Chris, thank you very much for joining me today.

Chris: Absolutely. Great to talk to you again, Yuval. See you at the next show.

Yuval: See you then.

Chris: Bye bye.


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