Tech Update: Wireless Power
The past couple of decades have seen mind-blowing advances in technology – from super-thin high-definition TVs that hang on the wall to cars that can park themselves to lights, cameras, thermostats, and all sorts of other “connected devices” that can be monitored and controlled no matter where you are using a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
Amid all this bustling innovation is one thing that hasn’t changed much over the last 100 years: We still need to run electrical cords to AC-powered devices, including “wireless speakers” that eliminate the need for speaker wire but not power cords.
All that may be about to change thanks to a Massachusetts-based company called WiTricity, which has developed a wireless power-transfer system that works over greater distances than the magnetic-induction system used in today’s wireless phone charging pads.
“We’re really inventing the basic science [of wireless power],” said WiTricity CEO Alex Gruzen in a recent interview with Fox News. “No more worries about do I have the right cable, the right connector, the right adapter. We’re just going to get rid of that cable clutter with one very simple wireless charging technology.”
The technology was born out of a frustration we can all relate to: The need to plug in and charge our phones one or more times a day. This daily annoyance was enough to compel MIT professor and WiTricity founder Marin Solačić (pronounced Soul-ya-cheech) to figure out how to wirelessly transfer power from a home’s existing electrical infrastructure to phones and other devices.
The pursuit led to the development of a wireless power system based on the phenomenon of “magnetically coupled resonators” whereby two objects resonating at the same frequency exchange energy through the air – without putting humans at risk. WiTricity says the process is 90-percent efficient and works on a low-level magnetic field comparable with the natural magnetic field generated by the Earth.
The applications are compelling and WiTricity has solutions for providing as little as 10 watts for portable devices all the way up to 6 kilowatts for charging electric cars. The system requires a source resonator, which plugs into an AC outlet and generates a magnetic field around it, and a resonance capture device that “receives” power through the air.
For charging phones and other battery-powered portable devices, you attach a special sleeve to your phone that picks up power from the magnetic field generated by an electromagnetic transmitter attached to the underside of a table or counter. The phone begins charging whenever it is placed on the surface – and it doesn’t have to be directly over the transmitter, which is strong enough to charge multiple devices.
WiTricity has demonstrated how the technology can be used to power a TV, eliminating the need to run an unsightly power cord to the TV, which is particularly helpful if the display is mounted on the wall.
The FDA is testing wireless charging for heart pumps and other medical implants. Instead of having to plug a power cable into an infection-prone receptacle embedded in the patient’s body, the device can be charged wirelessly while the patient lies in bed. The military is also testing a helmet apparatus that draws power wirelessly from a power source in the backpack.
WiTricity sees a day in the near future when you will be able to pull your electric car into the garage and park over a charging mat; the car would start charging immediately, eliminating the need to physically plug it in. Toyota has licensed the technology for its new electric Prius.
WiTricity recently entered into a partnership with Intel, which could produce WiTricity-powered laptops as early as the end of 2014.