As technology continues to take over our lives, so too have unsightly cords, wires, and bulky power sources entangled and cluttered our public and private living spaces. Additionally, the need for easily accessible, portable, and reliable sources of energy – to power everything including wearable technologies, implanted medical devices, and industrial and commercial robotics – now requires nothing less than a revolution in energy delivery.
Founded by Professor Marin Soljačić and a team of MIT colleagues, Massachusetts based WiTricity is refining technology capable of distributing electricity wirelessly over distances that “range from centimeters to several meters—and will deliver power ranging from milliwatts to kilowatts.”
Wireless delivery of electricity has wide ranging implications for both society and advanced technology companies. According to WiTricity’s VP of Product Management and Marketing, Kaynam Hedayat, the company’s wireless energy transfer system will address several application categories, even helping to launch new ones.
First, and the most convenient application for most consumers, is the ability to power all of our existing electronic devices. Soon, wires snaking through our homes and into overburdened plugs will be a thing of the past. In the near future, all of our home appliances and electronic devices such as computers, television sets, and smartphones will no longer have to be directly tethered to an electric grid. And best of all, having to worry about your power “running out” will be considered a quaint idiom of bygone years.
Second, and one of the most exciting applications, will be powering advanced robotics. Currently, robots require either bulky battery packs that quickly run out of juice due to intensive energy demands, or they must be directly attached and powered through bundles of cords that limit the robot’s range of movement. With WiTricity’s technology, robots will be free to cover greater distances than previously allowed.
Third, innovative packaging for marketing purposes. Companies are always seeking to compete for our attention in ever novel ways. Brightly colored packaging and elaborately arranged product displays will soon be complemented with printed LED coils to provide patterns of flashing light, making our trips to the local supermarket or hardware store comparable to a Disneyland light parade.
Fourth, wearable computing devices. At the moment, consumers are witnessing the birth and primacy of electronic wearables. Of course, one significant drawback to these first generation products is their reliance on batteries that quickly drain the more they are used. In time, simply walking past a WiTricity wireless charging source located either at home or somewhere in public will recharge such wearable devices. Even more salient will be WiTricity’s impact on implanted medical devices that will eliminate the need for periodic visits to the operating room because, for example, a patient’s pacemaker requires battery replacement.
Fifth, and perhaps the most significant, the dynamic charging of electric and hybrid vehicles. The process of replacing fossil burning vehicles with all electric (or in the least hybrid) vehicles remains slow despite their obvious benefit to the environment. Two barriers to realizing this dream are cost, and yep, you guessed it, the limit of range in miles traveled due to battery drain. Another hindrance many consumers experience with these types of vehicles is the extra step involved in connecting the car to a charging station when parked. With the WiTricity’s wireless charging delivery system, these cars can be recharged effortlessly not only at home, but also while driving, as the company someday envisions their technology embedded within highway and urban roads.
As you can see, the application possibilities are endless.
WiTricity’s technology is based on “highly resonant” wireless power transfer (HR-WPT). Put simply, a single coil of electrical wire (called the transmitter) is connected to a power source that generates a magnetic field when an electrical current is applied through an AC adapter. When this magnetic field comes in contact with other coils (called receivers) an electrical current is created, thus powering the appliances or electronic devices to which these receiver coils are connected. For a more detailed explanation, click on the company’s technology information page here.
Although previous attempts at delivering electricity wirelessly do exist, WiTricity’s technology differs in its ability to transfer electricity over greater distances thanks to “repeaters,” devices that help the transmitting coil extend its range. Another advantage is the positional freedom of the transmitting and receiving coils. In contrast to magnetic induction systems (think electronic toothbrushes and their charging stations) whose coils must be in close proximity and facing each other in a specific manner, WiTricity’s coils can face any direction and still function. Lastly, WiTricity’s coils can come in different sizes, ensuring that this technology can fit inside any-sized device or appliance.
Okay, so you’re thinking, “Great, another innovation that’s most likely decades away from being perfected.” Actually, WiTricity has already had products in the market place for several years in the form of reference designs. Additionally, several companies ranging from consumer electronics manufacturers to automotive companies have licensed WiTricity’s technology and have been using the WiTricity reference design in the design and development of their products.
On a more global scale with tremendous impact potential, WiTricity’s list of licensees include:
- Toyota, the world’s largest automotive manufacturer.
- Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer.
- MediaTek; a pioneer in semiconductor technology.
- Thoratec, a medical devices leader.
- Delphi, the global supplier of technologies for the automotive and commercial vehicle markets.
- IHI, leader of industrial, construction, energy, and automotive products and systems.
Consumer electronics products are expected to be available by the second half of this year. In the automotive market, Toyota has announced plans to introduce the wireless charging option based on WiTricity’s technology by early 2015, followed by availability to the general public by 2016.
If all goes according to plan, those days of spending countless hours hunched under a desk trying to untangle a myriad of wires and cords will be a thing of the past.