We can stream movies, music, and TV shows to wireless devices of all sorts. The catch? These devices are not totally wireless in every sense of the word. They all have to be charged in some way. Today, charging battery operated devices is done via wires; however, researchers are looking to change this very soon and some contend that they already have.
Late last month, CNN ran an article that exclaimed that wireless electricity is already here. Of course, that is not exactly the whole story, but such an exclamation does drive up web clicks.
A more accurate exclamation would have been that the proof of principle is here. Though nowhere near as exciting as the idea that we can rip all of the wires out of our homes tomorrow and go completely wireless, a proof of concept is still exciting. The totally wireless home, void of any wires, is still some time away into the future.
Magnetic Field in the Air
The idea is fairly simple as explained by Dr. Katie Hall to CNN. “What we’re doing is putting a magnetic field in the air.”
This magnetic field is generated via a coil. Hall goes on to state that when a device comes into contact with the magnetic field, an electric current is induced and a transfer of power is completed. The process is known as magnetic induction and the idea has been around for some time.
Currently, though, the catch is that magnetic induction can only be used at very short distances.
“Magnetic induction is efficient only over a very small distance as the strength of the field tails off rapidly.”
Therefore, items that currently use this charging method must be extremely close to the source, which the articles points out, has no real benefit over wired charging.
The idea of wireless power transmission is not a new one. It was first written about during the turn of the century when proposed by Nikolai Tesla. Who also claimed, even then, to have perfected the idea. Since then, about every five to 10 years someone has claimed they have made this long-sought pipe dream a reality or, at the very least, one step closer to reality.
In 2004, a group of MIT students conducted a study on the possibility of achieving wireless transmission with an array.
In 2008, Intel made news when it stated that it made great strides in the efficiency of wireless power transmission. And now in 2014, Dr. Katie Hall and her employer, WiTricity, are looking for headlines as well.
Is It a Viable Solution?
The problem here is not the proof of concept. The proof of concept has been around for nearly a century and a half. The issue is taking that proof of concept to the next level and making it a viable working solution for the world at large, not just the lab.
There are several hurdles that must be overcome. Not only the limited distance, but also the issue with efficiency.
Fundamentally, it is less efficient to transfer electricity wirelessly than via cables. Therefore, even if the issues with range are solved, there will be issues with efficiency which raise concerns over electric production and the impact on environment.
Yes, the proof of concept about wireless electric transmission is here! It has been here for nearly 150 years. However, the day when we can scrap all of the power cords in our homes has yet to arrive and probably will not arrive for some time.