We all have so-called wireless devices, such as laptops, mobile phones, printers, keyboards and mice and much much more. So why is our desktop still cluttered with wires and why do we still feel tethered to our office furniture?
Because we still need power. There are many alternatives, but none of them work satisfactorily. Ordinary batteries seem so wasteful and environmentally unfriendly, re-chargeable batteries seem to run out much faster and are never charged when you need them. Solar chargers are expensive and rely on the sun – not much of that here – and all the other dreams of hydrogen-powered micro fuel cells and all the other technology promises are just that – promises.
So your office desk or your home office is cluttered with power cables, chargers and the like.
This reminds me of an old joke. A man was walking through a railway station dragging along a heavy suitcase. Someone comes up to him and asks him for the time. He puts down the suitcase and rolls up his sleeve to expose the most wonderful, high-tech watch. “Wow !” The mans says, “what can it do ?”. “Well, firstly its a watch, but its also a mobile phone and a powerful computer. Its got built-in sat-nav, it constantly monitors my health and it tell me if I am going to be late for an appointment. If I get bored, I can watch satellite TV and I can pick up radio broadcasts from all over the world”. “That’s fantastic” the first man says, “I would love a watch like that”.
“I’m fed up with it” says the owner taking it off his wrist, “You can have it”.
“Thanks, that’s really generous” says the man, walking away with it.
“Hang on” says the first man handing over the suitcase – “don’t go without the batteries”.
Anyway, back to the point of the article. Like all budding inventors, I had invented wireless power, in my head at least.
I didn’t know this, but the nineteenth century American inventor Thomas Edison and physicist and engineer Nikola Tesla have already explored the concept. In the very early days of electricity before the electric grid as deployed they were very interested in developing a scheme to transmit electricity wirelessly over long distances. They couldn’t imagine dragging this vast infrastructure of metallic wires across every continent. Tesla even went so far as to build a 29m-high aerial known as Wardenclyffe Tower in New York. But it ran into some financial troubles and that work was never completed.
But now a system that can deliver power to devices without the need for wires has been shown off at a hi-tech conference. The technique exploits simple physics and can be used to charge a range of electronic devices.
Eric Giler, chief executive of US firm Witricity, showed mobile phones and televisions charging wirelessly at the TED Global conference in Oxford.
He said the system could replace the miles of expensive power cables and billions of disposable batteries.
The system is based on work by physicist Marin Soljacic at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
It exploits “resonance”, whereby energy transfer is markedly more efficient when a certain frequency is applied.
When two objects have the same resonant frequency, they exchange energy strongly without having an effect on other, surrounding objects.
For example, it is resonance that can cause a wine glass to explode when a singer hits exactly the right tone.
But instead of using acoustic resonance, Witricity’s approach exploits the resonance of low frequency electromagnetic waves.
Soon your office furniture will be free from all those unsightly wires….