We live in a society of wires, cords and cables.
Think about it. In order for anything to work, it needs to be plugged in either all the time or at some point — cell phones, computers, stereos, TV, hair dryers, blenders, vacuums …
But what if nothing had to be plugged in anymore, because electricity was “mobile,” could go anyhere, without all the wires?
"Anything with a cord or a disposable battery is a candidate for getting replaced," said Eric Giler, CEO of WiTricity, a company based in Watertown. He describes a “room of the future” where, with his technology, things are charged wirelessly.
"We put it into the carpeting, one into each carpet tile, and you’ll see that it hops through the tiles, it goes into lamps, and it goes into the furniture and then it goes into the lamp on top of your table to the phone," he said.
The "it" Giler is describing is wireless electricity. The source of electricity is a thing that looks like a big soda can plugged into the wall. It’s the only things plugged in, and from there, it creates a magnetic field that bounces between two coils, allowing power to hop from one location to another. A resonator — which looks like copper-colored tape, is under each carpet tile, table and lamp base, and every time the power lands on one of those things, it transmits again. It’s a technology that Giler says has far reaching applications, like the world’s first wirelessly rechargeable AA battery.
Giler says in this case, the same resonator that’s under the carpet is scaled down to fit onto a AA battery. Batteries are the most expensive form of power we buy. We throw 40 billion of them away a year, and making them wirelessly rechargeable could affect everything from remote controls to heart pumps, and even electric cars.
"Imagine you could put the coils in the cars and you run power along highways — you put coils every few hundred meters and then the car would not even need a battery, or make a much smaller one," Giler said. "It would make electric cars more affordable."
Affordability is always an issue, and for wireless electricity to really take off, it has to be affordable. Companies like Sansung and Nokia have already incorporated their own wireless charging capabilities into a few of their mobile phones and tablets, which comes at an extra cost. Ryan Sanderson, a wireless analyst at IHS, says that’s not sustainable.
"The way consumers buy a cell phone at the moment, they expect to get a device that charges it in the box," Sanderson said. "They don’t expect to go out and buy another one for $40 or $50 to enable them to charge it."
But IHS predicts the potential demand for resonant wireless charging will be huge and grow rapidly over the next couple years. This is good news for WiTricity, which hopes to have their technology available everywhere much like wifi is today. But skeptics like David Rose, MIT researcher and founder of Ambient Devices, says it will be a long time until we have the infrastructure to support wireless power on a mainstream scale.
"It’s going to take all of Toyota to do all of their next generation of electric cars, and Mercedes and Audi and everybody else in order for most people to want one of these in their garage," Rose said. "And it’s also going to take a big consumer electronics player like Samsung or Apple and Starbucks and places that people go, in order to have this become widely accepted. That’s a huge uphill battle the company faces for any big system-wide change.
An uphill battle that doesn’t seem to concern Giler.
"We say anything with a cord or disposable battery is a candidate for getting replaced, which means ultimately, what’s our competition?" he said. "The wire and the battery."
Which may end up being things of the past.