Some of you might not remember the days before Wi-Fi. Even though I used to come home from high school and dial into America Online to check my e-mail (that “you’ve got mail!” voice was the most exciting thing I’d hear all day), and later in college I struggled with Ethernet cords and pesky TCP/IP settings, it seems like another life, which in many ways it was. I was absolutely astonished by the first wireless connection I ever used, even though I had to practically sit on top of the router. Since then, wireless has been the name of the game. And now, we’re approaching the next step: wireless electricity.
It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But WiTricity claims that wireless electricity is not only possible, but that it’s the quickly-approaching wave of the future. The company wants to create components capable of delivering electricity to a whole range of equipment across a range of distances and a range of voltage. Maybe the best part about this vision is that all the stuff we have to plug in to recharge could recharge themselves. You know that bedroom with the single, ungrounded outlet? That wouldn’t be a problem anymore. And electrical fires? Nope. You’d have to start your own with some old-fashioned flames.
WiTricity’s Chief Technology Officer, Katie Hall, participated in an early experiment that solidified this vision. It involved a bunch of refrigerator coils and a light bulb that glowed without being attached to anything. That was the seed for the wireless “resonance” technology that Hall describes as “putting a magnetic field in the air.” The company built something called a source resonator, which produces a magnetic field when it’s near a power source, which includes another wire coil. Introducing a device into the magnetic field generates a current that can conduct energy.
Transferring electricity via magnetic field is similar to the way Wi-Fi works, and WiTricity envisions a future in which such energy is just as easy to come by as wireless internet connections. So far, their project is going well. By attaching source resonators to batteries, they’ve successfully powered phones, computers, and televisions. They’re currently working on a way to refuel electric cars, which would be a game changer. Beyond powering our equipment, Hall believes that this technology could be used for medical devices such as pacemakers.
The next step is figuring out how to increase the distance the power can travel, which depends on the size of the resonant coil. Eventually, WiTricity wants to perfect techniques for long-distance power transference, which may be aided by the wirelessly rechargeable AA batteries they’re working on. Pretty soon, the only things kids will have to put into sockets will be their fingers.