Wireless technology: It’s a luxury everyone is enjoying more and more as cell phones and Wi-Fi hotspots become the norm. Today’s engineers have a firm grasp of how wireless data transfer works, but what about wireless electricity transfer? As it turns out, that technology has been within reach for more than 100 years.
In the early 1900s, energy pioneer Nicola Tesla discovered a way to wirelessly transmit power to light bulbs in his laboratory. Since then, scientists have aspired to create a world where wireless electricity reigns supreme and cumbersome cords no longer exist. How does wireless electricity work, and how likely is it that we might one day live in a completely wireless world? The answer lies in a relatively new development called Resonance Energy Transfer.
Resonance Energy Transfer
Image via Flickr Filter Forge
Resonance energy transfer requires three major pieces of hardware: A power source, a highly resonant transmitter, and a highly resonant receiver. Electricity originates at the power source, where a coil, capacitors, and inductors create a magnetic field. When the transmitter and receiver both resonate at the same frequency, electricity flows between them through this magnetic field.
The WiTricity Corporation: Striving for a Wireless Future
A progressive company called WiTricity boasts that electronic devices “capable of recharging themselves without ever being plugged in” loom just around the corner. Company official and marketing VP Kaynam Hedayat believes WiTricity products will sweep the globe in the same way that Wi-Fi has. “You will see this technology embed itself,” Hedayat predicts, “into [. . .] cell phone(s) [. . .] laptop(s), and PCs.”
Implications for Human Health
The fact that innovators like WiTricity are pushing us toward magnetic field-induced electricity begs the question: Is this type of electricity safe for human beings? The answer is yes, according to WiTricity technologist Dr. Katie Hall. The magnetic fields used in wireless energy transfer are as harmless as the fields used in Wi-Fi routers, she says. And while it’s true that Wi-Fi puts small amounts of radiation into the air, no evidence of human harm has ever been found due to Wi-Fi.
Wireless Electricity: The Pros
A world with wireless electricity would offer several major benefits:
- A clean, renewable source of electricity that wouldn’t advance our environmental debt.
- The elimination of bulky electrical cords and throw-away batteries.
- More efficient medical technologies.
- A boost to the wireless automobile industry that would, in turn, decrease our need for crude oil.
- A simpler, greener world.
Wireless Electricity: The Cons
A wireless world would have its own set of annoyances, as well, including:
- Charging a device through resonance energy transfer would take a lot longer than traditional charging.
- A device’s mobility would be severely limited while on the charging pad.
- The manufacture of devices receptive to wireless charging can be complex and costly.
Market analysts expect the pros to outweigh the cons. Pike Research predicts that, over the next eight years, the wireless electricity market’s revenue will grow from $5 billion to about $15 billion. Two of the most likely places for this expansion are domestic homes and hospitals, where the technology would be used to save money and save lives.