Companies deliver on wireless electricity

January 19, 2009 7:57:19 AM PST
The electric power cord could be on its way out.

First came cordless phones, then came wireless Internet. Now, scientists are driving to discover wireless electricity.

"If you go on a business trip," Bret Lewis likes to point out, "you're going to pack three or four different cords that charge three or four different devices. We can get rid of that."

"With intelligence, we're able to talk to a device to understand what the power curve is, the charge rate it needs to have. Or, we can apply power directly to it."

Lewis is Managing Director of Fulton Innovation, which calls its system eCoupled. Leggett & Platt is using it to build chargers into toolboxes, dashboards and workbenches so Bosch power tools are continually charged wherever they lie, using smart inductance.

Another company, Powercast, broadcasts power over high-frequency radio waves.

Powermat adds data to the mix. In one of their systems a pad can be used to power a computer and a phone. But the technology can also enables sync the two of them together through the pad. No USB required.

"In the near future," predicts Ron Ferber, Powermat President, "this is all going to be embedded. We will have technology where appliances don't have cords. You have a big, heavy mixer? Leave it on your table in the corner of your island, your kitchen island, and you just push it forward, and it turns on. Pull it off, it turns off."

In most cases some sort of adapter needs to be added to a device receiving power, so that the systems can recognize it and regulate it. And, the transmitter and receiver need to be almost touching.

An exception is PowerBeam, which sends its power with a laser. The beam is invisible but you can feel its warmth on your hand. Its wavelength is not harmful to the eye.

According to David Graham, PowerBeam CEO and founder, "If you had tried to do this five years ago and in fact, if you had told people this could be done five years ago, they'd say, 'No it can't.'"

Eventually, the transmitter part could be shrunk into something the size of a golf ball and the receiver could be shaped to attach to whatever you need to charge.

A half-dozen companies are already offering systems to exterminate the often-seen rat's nests of cords and cables.