Intel demonstrates wireless electricity

Wailin Wong
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

The wall-outlet crawl is a familiar dance that takes place in cafes and airport terminals: laptop computer and cell-phone users desperately hunting for a place to plug in their gadgets, rearranging furniture or settling uncomfortably on the floor to access an outlet.

If only there were a way to pull electricity out of the air, letting consumer electronics operate and recharge while untethered.

Scientists are now hot on the trail, trying to do for electricity what Wi-Fi did for the Internet. The idea is to perfect a transmitter that sends electricity coursing through a room to gadgets, eliminating the need for messy and inconvenient cords.

The technology for wireless power is emerging, and Intel Corp. took a significant stride toward a power cord-less future Thursday when it demonstrated a system that made a light bulb glow when it was several feet from its power source.

Intel's setup was more science fair than Best Buy, but wireless power researchers say the technology points to a future when electricity hot spots coming from a single source in a room provide juice to any number of electronic devices within range.

Picture an airport gate area where every passenger's computer and phone gets charged before boarding, or an office worker not worrying about battery power for a laptop. Researchers say such widespread consumer applications are likely several years away.

"It's an engineering challenge just to build a system that's actually useful," said Joshua Smith, a Seattle-based researcher at Intel. "What we showed was powering a light bulb. But to make it work, we need to power a laptop or a battery charger, which is actually a little bit different. There are still quite a few unknowns."

Intel's work in this field piggybacks on research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which unveiled its breakthrough in June 2007. MIT professor Marin Soljacic got the idea for wireless power one night when he was again roused by his cell phone, which was beeping because it was low on battery power. He wanted to develop a technology to let his phone charge itself.

MIT isn't working with Intel, but Soljacic welcomed the company's news.

"It's very exciting that other people are taking very serious interest and it also demonstrates the potential of wireless power," Soljacic said. "It's something that would undoubtedly have many applications."

Soljacic said the technology could power the wireless recharging of pacemakers, eliminating the need for invasive surgery. Meanwhile, industrial company Leggett & Platt has partnered with Fulton Innovation, a Michigan-based technology firm, to outfit a new line of trucks that charges flashlights and power tools as they sit on a shelf.

Dave Baarman, Fulton Innovation's director of advanced technologies, said he remains skeptical that consumers and regulators will embrace residential electric hot spots, despite researchers' assurances that the technology is safe for humans.

"I don't think the public is ready to say: 'We're going to broadcast kilowatts of power across your living room,'" Baarman said. "We have a big enough issue with some of the really low-power transmitters, like cell phones."

Intel and MIT's systems use electromagnetic fields that are generated when two objects resonate at the same frequency, similar to how a singer can shatter a glass by finding the exact pitch at which the glass is vibrating. Powercast, a company in Philadelphia, is looking at different wireless power technology that converts radio waves to electricity.

Both systems are built to transmit power over a room-size area. Trying to provide enough wireless power for a city block would pose technical and health risks, researchers say.

"We never want to be putting out enough power that we would in any way impact safety," said Steve Day, senior director of marketing at Powercast.

In the early 20th century, inventor Nikola Tesla attempted to build a tower that would wirelessly send power over long distances. His efforts proved unfruitful, and modern initiatives have also presented challenges.

Mohammad Shahidehpour, who chairs the electrical and computer engineering department at the Illinois Institute of Technology, said he worked with NASA a decade ago on technology to beam solar power from space to Earth in the form of a laser.

"The problem was that if you moved it a fraction of a degree, you could melt a city," Shahidehpour said.

For now, despite Tesla and his successors' efforts, there still isn't a wireless replacement that bests the traditional electrical grid.

Tesla "never dreamt that people would have loved electricity so much they would drag this huge infrastructure of metal wires across continents," Soljacic said.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.