Electricity Without Wires

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Electricity Without Wires

Smart phones, laptops, and tablets have made computing and communicating more mobile than ever. Powerful, lightweight devices have been untethered from the phone jacks and wall outlets that once kept users tied to their desks.

But even these devices need to be plugged in at regular intervals, often once or twice a day, to be recharged. In addition to the inconvenience of carrying an assortment of power cords and battery chargers for every iPhone, Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPod, and laptop, this also means that people must constantly search for places to plug into the grid. As anyone who has tried to do so at a crowded airport or Starbucks can attest, the demand for outlets in public places is far greater than the supply.

What’s the solution? Wireless power.

Scientists have pursued the goal of the wireless transmission of electricity for more than a century. In 1893, Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla demonstrated his technology for lighting a wireless lamp at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Tesla built on the research of Michael Faraday, who in 1831 discovered the principle of electromagnetic induction, in which electric current that is flowing through a wire can cause a current in a nearby wire.

Although the concept of wireless technology has existed since Tesla’s time, the demand has not been sufficient to attract massive R&D investments until now. When computers, TVs, radios, and other devices were large and heavy, users simply placed them near wall outlets. It is only now, in the age of extremely light, small, and mobile electronics that need constant recharging, that wireless power is about to reach its potential.

But, as with any other new technology, it will be important for the industry to agree on a universal standard so that a single charging platform will be able to power devices of various types from various manufacturers.

With this in mind, more than 100 leading companies have collaborated to form the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC). Among the members are AT&T, China Mobile, HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony, Sprint, T-Mobile, Toshiba, and Verizon. The WPC is lobbying for the adoption of its Qi standard across all devices and chargers.1

The technology is based on Faraday’s 19th century discovery: When a current is passed through a coil of wire, a magnetic field is created. The Qi approach uses that principle to transmit electricity without wires. The charging station includes a coil that creates the magnetic field. A receiver in each device contains a second coil that converts the magnetic field back into an electric current...

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