Newsflash

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The biggest problem with wireless power transfer is that it’s boring. It’s boring in the same way that not having to change lightbulbs is boring, or not having to fill up your car at the gas station is boring. It’s so useful that you take it for granted and stop noticing that it’s there.

There are lots of ways to provide lighting, but only one way to provide lighting without wires. There are lots of ways to power cars, but only one way to power cars without carrying gas. And there are lots of ways to charge batteries, but only one way to charge them without plugging them in.

If you’ve got the kind of future tech power that can wirelessly charge batteries and make cars and lights run off those batteries, then you can also build a lot of other things. You can do things like build robots, or build factories that make robots, or that make factories that make robots…

The point isn’t just that these technologies are useful individually; it’s that they’re useful in combination. The more you have, the more valuable each additional thing becomes.

The course of history is changed by your ability to change things.

– Marty McFly

Until I read the quote above, I had no idea how much of an impact “Back To The Future” had on my childhood.

For those who have never seen the movie (what is wrong with you!?), in it, a teenager named Marty McFly goes back in time and accidentally gets his mother pregnant with himself.

He then has to find a way to get back to the present without destroying his own existence. Along the way he encounters flying cars, self-drying clothes, and power laces – Nike’s auto-lacing sneakers that were famously featured in “Back To The Future II”.

While we still don’t have flying cars or self-drying clothes (although both are currently in development), self-lacing shoes are now a reality thanks to Nike’s recently released HyperAdapt 1.0s. And it’s all thanks to Marty McFly.

Of course, there is one more piece of technology from “Back To The Future II” that we still need to make real: wireless power transfer.

In the movie, Marty walks into his home and simply says “lights” and they turn on; later

“The future is here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” – William Gibson

If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’ve probably seen the lights that run along the aisle. These lights are often powered by coils of wire inside the floor. Their job is to illuminate your way to the bathroom, and if you look closely, you’ll notice that they are thin and just a few inches long. How do they stay lit?

This is a common setup that uses something called induction. The plane has a coil of wire running through it, which generates a magnetic field. That magnetic field passes through the light bulb’s coil of wire, inducing electricity in it. That current turns on the bulb and keeps it lit as long as the induction process continues. This can work over distances of several inches and can happen without any contact between the two coils.

This induction effect is known as wireless power transfer (WPT). It sounds futuristic, but WPT has been around for years — Nikola Tesla demonstrated it in 1891! It’s only recently that scientists have started to explore other ways we can use this technology — from charging cellphones to powering pacemakers and more.

It sounds like something out of Star Trek: Researchers say that a working room-temperature superconductor could be just 10 years away.

But to some people, it sounds more like something out of The Matrix: Superconductors transmit electricity without any loss, so how do you meter the power coming out of the wall?

Today we get an answer thanks to Zhu and Lukens at the University of Washington in Seattle who outline a simple way to send power wirelessly through space.

These guys say that the only thing needed is a conventional transformer, another superconducting coil and a cryogenic refrigerator. That’s right, they are proposing systems that need cooling to operate but they still expect them to be commercially available in 10 years.

It has been the subject of science fiction for over a century, but the concept of wireless electricity is not only real, it’s almost commonplace.

In fact, if you own a mobile phone, you already use wireless electricity every day. Your device charges when it is placed on a charging pad connected to an outlet. The charging pad uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between the two devices.

The same basic principle applies across a range of technologies, such as those used for inductive cooking and charging electric vehicles. In each case, an electromagnetic field transfers energy across physical space to power devices without the use of wires.

Designers of electrical systems have long sought to eliminate the need for users to connect or disconnect devices from power sources. The human body offers a model in which all parts of the body have constant access to energy, generated by organs such as the liver and heart. This paper investigates the potential for applying similar techniques for powering electrical machines.

We propose a system in which a distributed network of coils creates an electromagnetic field that is propagated throughout a room. Power receivers in machinery operate by inductively extracting power from this field. A controller regulates power levels and frequency within the network.

We discuss the advantages of wireless power transfer over conventional wired approaches, as well as limitations and challenges in implementation. We also analyse how this system can be applied in various environments, such as office buildings and homes.

Wireless power transfer (WPT), wireless power transmission, wireless energy transmission (WET), or electromagnetic power transfer is the transmission of electrical energy without wires as a physical link. In a wireless power transmission system, a transmitter device, driven by electric power from a power source, generates a time-varying electromagnetic field, which transmits power across space to a receiver device, which extracts power from the field and supplies it to an electrical load. The technology of “power beaming” has potential application in cases where continuous energy is needed, but conventional recharging presents logistical difficulties.

A widespread use of WPT would allow mobile phones and other battery-powered devices to be charged without being physically connected to a charger using an induction charging station; the battery would have to be designed for inductive charging though. Electric toothbrushes are already powered in this way.