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Wireless Electricity

by June 07, 2007
Wireless Power

Wireless Power

We knew it was just a matter of time. Wireless electricity. Next will come transporters, food replicators and then, finally, the holodeck - and you know I'm never leaving my house once that arrives. A group of scientists at MIT have demonstrated what they are tentatively calling "WiTricity" - the ability to send significant amounts of electricity through the air without the use of wires. For many this has been the holy grail of achievements and could signal a new revolutionary wave of development in the consumer electronics industry.

According to an article over at Daily Mail:
"The inspiration came when the lead researcher, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr Marin Soljacic, was standing in his kitchen at night staring at his mobile phone.

It was probably the sixth time that month that I was awakened by my cell phone beeping to let me know that I had forgotten to charge it. It occurred to me that it would be so great if the thing took care of its own charging," he said.

The concept works by using the principles of electromagnetic induction where you pass electricity from one coil to another. It's a transmitter/receiver arrangement of sorts and is already being used in many applications today - except that typically the transmitting and receiving coils need to be very close together. In WiTricity, the system basically fills the room with a 'non-radiative' electromagnetic field. To objects that aren't designed to resonate with the field (plants, desks, walls, your grandmother Lois) the field simply passes by harmlessly and is ignored.

But if you design an object to absorb the energy by resonating with the field then you get a result that is about as close to magic as we will experience in our lifetimes. Using 2 copper coils, the MIT team transferred power over 7 feet to light up a light bulb - which lit up instantly. Let me rehash this - using only a copper coil (of sorts) as the sending device, a group of scientists actually delivered wireless power (about 60 watts worth) over 7 feet away!

So far they claim to be able to accomplish the feat at up to 9 ft. Eventually they think they can go up to a few yards to devices connected to a receiving coil. The possibilities are endless. Since the transmitter and receiver need not be in view, you can mount the device in a ceiling, conceivably activating an entire room in an electromagnetic field that will power everything in it - all without harming anyone in the room... well, you may not be able to have any children - but your laptop will work without a battery!

Unlike the Segway, WiTricity would be a technology that would simply revolutionize the world, how products are built and developed and how public and private establishments are created. If wireless power becomes a reality then consumers are looking at a brand new world of technological connectivity and possibilities that have not yet been realized in the world. More than a few scenarios come to mind:

  • Wireless power in the classroom means that laptops and portables can be made even smaller and lighter and users will be able to utilize products for longer before having to concern themselves with power requirements
  • Public transportation, especially airlines, trains and busing can be WiTricity-enabled to provide a more work-friendly environment for commuters and business travelers
  • Homes can be redesigned to allow for automatic recharging of portables and electronics, providing "hot zones" for particular rooms or areas that would be beneficial for compatible products.
  • At some point, portable electronics might rely so heavily on this type of technology that its use will be widespread enough to eliminate 50-60% of portable battery use, making batteries a requirement only for people not living in urban environments or not intending to locate themselves primarily in public areas.

With regards to safety "The researchers believe there is little to worry about on safety grounds, saying that magnetic fields interact weakly with living organisms and are unlikely to have any serious side effects." I've heard this before, however I would probably still posit how much research will need to be done in order to convince people that this isn't the equivalent of bringing the local power station into your home. Avoiding unnecessary exposure to electromagnetic fields just seems to be common sense and it will take some convincing (I would believe) before many people will be willing to accept the responsibility of reworking the public infrastructure to encompass this type of technology.

Now, who's working on that holo deck?

About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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