Wireless Cities are Coming: Get Ready to Ditch Your Power Cords Wireless Cities are Coming: Get Ready to Ditch Your Power Cords
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Wireless Cities are Coming: Get Ready to Ditch Your Power Cords

by Jesse McDougall

February 26, 2013

Here’s a bold prediction for you: very soon, we’ll live in a wireless world. This is where you’re probably thinking, “Hold your sweet-smartphonin’-butt there mister.... We already live in a wireless world.” One could argue—given our network of mobile phone, towers, and satellites—that we’ve now effectively transitioned enough of our communications infrastructure away from the wire that we can deem ourselves “wireless." However, in fact, we are not a wireless world. One significant tether still remains: the mighty power cord.

Our global system of satellites, antennas, and batteries allow us to take our mobile tools on the road and exchange information wirelessly for impressive lengths of time. Sooner or later however, every indulgent reprieve we take from the world’s largest tangle is met with insistent indicator lights, panicked beeping, and a cacophony of calls to plug something in.

Now, imagine a world without power cords—no phone cords; no flatscreen tv cords running down your wall; no more tripping over your laptop’s power cord on the way to the bathroom in between episodes of Lost Girl. This is the (very-near) future—all your power-hungry electronic devices will run with no wires...nor batteries.

Wireless transfer of energy has been the elusive dream of many aspirational electrical engineers and foot-tangle-ensnared cubicle-workers for decades. And, thanks to a discovery made by a group of enterprising individuals at MIT in 2007...it’s here.

Okay...well, truth be told...it’s been here since long before 2007. In fact, wireless energy transfer—in the broadest sense—has been here since the dawn of time (sunlight, lightning, electromagnetic waves, etc.) But, the ability to harness and use wireless energy transfer to direct electricity was first demonstrated in 1891 by Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-born electrical engineer and scientist. Perhaps his greatest invention—in a long line of great inventions—was the Tesla Coil, a device which he used to beam energy across great distances, but which we use today to play the theme songs from 1980s video games.

Despite Tesla’s early advances, his work—though exciting—did not lead to widespread wireless power. The need for wireless energy transfer was not urgent—and therefore the public will—did not yet exist. For over a century, wireless power remained a novelty.

However, after being awakened for the sixth night in a month by a beeping cell phone begging for power, MIT professor Marin Soljacic decided that wireless energy transfer was no longer a novelty, it had graduated to necessity. He gathered a team and got to work retooling Tesla’s experiments for the 21st century.

The goal of Soljacic and his team was simple: to create a wireless energy system that could power a room full of electronics using one base station and several receivers. As wireless energy transfer can happen in a number of ways, there are different approaches one could take to solve this problem:

  • Microwaves (the electromagnetic waves, not the oven) are cheap and available, but require line-of-sight between the power source and the electronic device. Also, they fry people's brains.
  • Laserbeams—another form of electromagnetic waves—could also be used as a form of wireless energy transfer. But, as anyone who has seen the early Val Kilmer classic, Real Genius, knows—lasers can take the head off a stone statue with surprising aplomb.

original image (cc) wikimedia commons

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Wireless Cities are Coming: Get Ready to Ditch Your Power Cords