Wireless power charges forward (and why it matters to cities)

Fri, 2014-04-25 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

We all love coffee shops that lets us connect our laptop or tablet to their free WiFi hotspot. But in the future, it may get even better. Wireless technology may enable us to charge our laptop and battery-dependent devices as we slurp our latte. 

The concept --called wireless power transmission -- has been around for more than a century. A common example found today is wireless charging stations for mobile phones. These stations conveniently eliminate the need for a wall charger and cords. You simply lay your phone directly on the charging pad.

However, the goal of transmitting power over distances has proved harder to master. And that's what's starting to change. Engineers are now focused on wirelessly transmitting energy across spaces by using wireless "resonance" technology to generate magnetic fields. And having some success. Korean researchers recently reported that they were able to charge up to 40 smartphones simultaneously from five meters away.

CNN reports similar achievements at WiTricity, a company near Boston that was born out a wireless power project at MIT. WiTricity is working to design products that provide direct wireless power to stationary objects like flat screen TVs, loud speakers and computer peripherals like keyboards and displays. It also intends to turn out wireless products that automatically charge phones, laptops and other battery-bearing devices that fall within the range of its power source.

With these breakthroughs in transmitting wireless power over distances, many believe the wireless power movement is reaching its tipping point. City leaders will want to closely watch the development and debate over wireless power solutions. These solutions not only impact handheld consumer electronics, but home appliances, transportation and other smart city interests.

Some benefits that cities can realize from wireless power include:

  • Reduction of electronic waste and disposable battery use by encouraging adoption of wireless power charging. Millions of cords, individual device chargers and batteries can be eliminated from landfills.
  • Offering Wi-Power zones to go along with Wi-Fi zones.  Many cities will want to meet the needs of their mobile, tech-savvy populations.
  • More convenient charging stations for electric cars and buses. Vehicles can park over wireless charging pads to recharge batteries.  SCC Global Partner Qualcomm is already involved in developing these types of parking pads.
  • Direct powering of public transportation systems. Berlin-based Bombardier Transportation has developed a system called Primove that moves buses and streetcars along an inductively powered roadway, avoiding the need for hard-to-maintain cables. 

To learn more about wireless power development, check out this TED Talk by the former WiTricity CEO Eric Giler.