Monday, January 19, 2009

Wireless-Power Device...

The CES show in Las Vegas has seen a working version of a technology that can charge devices without a physical wired connection.

Powermat has unveiled a wireless charger that is slightly larger than a mouse mat with room for up to three devices. The grey powermat uses electromagnetic induction to transfer electricity to the device—using the same technology that is used to charge electric toothbrushes—and the company claims the process allows devices to be charged at the speed they would if plugged into a regular charger.

While the Powermat sounds refreshingly simple, there are some notable caveats. Gadgets that need charging have to be placed in a special case which contains a chip telling the device how much power to draw, and when the process is complete. The company currently has cases for most mobile phone brands, including the iPhone and BlackBerry, and expects to announce more this week.
There are also plugs allowing products such as laptops and handheld games consoles to be charged via the Powermat.

The company plans to offer five different mats for home and travel, with prices starting at $100. The mobile phone sleeves cost around $30, and the package is expected to go on sales in September. Europe may see the device slightly earlier, though nothing is confirmed.
The principle of electromagnetic induction was independently discovered by Michael Faraday and Joseph Henry in the 1830s, when they found that current flowing through one wire induces a current in a neighbouring wire.

To work, it requires that the two wires—in this case the charger and the device’s charging circuit—are placed close together. Any further apart and the power has to be cranked up to levels that can generate dangerous amounts of radiation.

Marin Soljačić, an assistant professor in MIT's Department of Physics and Research Laboratory of Electronics, is attempting to solve that problem by employing a non-radiative electromagnetic field rather than electromagnetic waves, a system he calls WiTricity. In 2007 his team announced that they were able to charge a laptop over room-sized distances.

“As long as the laptop is in a room equipped with a source of such wireless power, it would charge automatically, without having to be plugged in,” said professor Peter Fisher, one member of the team. “In fact, it would not even need a battery to operate inside of such a room.”

Who: Marin Soljacic, MIT

Definition: Wireless power technology transmits electricity to devices without the use of cables.

Impact: Any low-power device, such as a cell phone, iPod, or laptop, could recharge automatically simply by coming within range of a wireless power source, eliminating the need for multiple cables—and perhaps, eventually, for batteries.

Context: Eliminating the power cord would make today’s ubiquitous portable electronics truly wireless. A number of researchers and startups are making headway in this growing field.


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