Friday, January 19, 2007

Tech Gadgets: Wireless Powah!

This is going to be an unconventional tech gadget update. It actually has a background story to go with it. Now that that's out of the way...

Everyone hates cords and wires. We invent ways to get around being tied to a wall just so we can have a slight degree of freedom, even if it means killing overall efficiency. The best example I can think of is laptops: We buy them to be unchained from the boring, same ol' deskspace and inconveniently located power outlets. We then realize the average battery life for the laptop is 1 hour, and that our system performs like a sloth in molasses thanks to the laptop's battery conservation mode.

What if we could be freed not only from the desk, but the cord as well- permanently?

That's exactly what today's article is about. According to BBC News, U.S. researchers are taking the century-old idea of wirelessly powering accessories and reclassifying it as "plausible." Their motive? Since things are so portable these days- from cell phones to laptops, handhelds to PDAs- there is an obvious demand for a power standard such as this.

While other wireless power methods, such as radio towers (which emit unfocused radiation) and laser devices (which require line-of-sight) proved ineffective for practical purposes, this new method will match power source to accessory, and transfer power via electrical wave resonance. Think back to physics with tuning forks, and you have the general concept. Better yet, any energy not transferred is just re-absorbed.

The distance wireless power can be transmitted is scalable, so the MIT researchers insist there will be plenty of uses in homes and factories. You can power something 5 to 6 meters away on average, but should be equally able to power a machine across a plant floor (at a higher cost).

Even more amazingly, charging things wirelessly should be just as fast as using a wall outlet.

(Small history diversion: This idea was experimented on by electrical engineer Nikola Tesla (father of the tesla coil) back in the 1800's, but lack of project funding proved fatal to his vision of wireless power.)

An existing product that utilizes this theory, albeit on a much smaller scale (and smaller effective distance), is the Splashpad. The Splashpad is produced by UK-based Splashpower, who obviously has a similar philosophy as the MIT researchers. While this device has no obvious price tag, there is no doubt more items such as these will be popping up in Brookstone, The Sharper Image, and cutting-edge technology stores across the Internet.

Society seems ready fore wireless power. Now we just need to sit back and hope it delivers.

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