Wireless power has been a dream of mankind’s for decades, but the technology finally appears to be gaining some traction. Theoretically, numerous studies have shown that wireless power is possible through a variety of aerial transmission modalities. Yet the problem with wireless power has been getting the technology to work at a reasonable range.
So far, commercial use of wireless power has been limited, but progress is being made. For instance, Samsung now has a commercially available wireless charger for its cell phones. With the charger, consumers do not need to plug their phone into the wall for it to charge.
Unfortunately though, the consumer still has to place their phone onto the wireless charging pad meaning that there is a still a physical connection required to power the phone. Even wireless devices like Qi and PowerMat only work to wirelessly power from about an inch away; hardly the kind of freedom that would empower consumers to use devices in new ways. Given that limitation, the wireless charging for the phone is a gimmick or cool tech toy depending on your perspective, rather than a true game changer for mobile devices.
In 2007, MIT researchers demonstrated a way to wirelessly power a light bulb using power conducted via a magnetic field from a source a few feet away. The bulb did not have to be connected to the wall or physically touching a power source in order to get power. While this represents a more useful system than the one Samsung is currently fielding, the key again is the limited distance over which the power can be transmitted. Efforts are being made to commercialize the approach, but so far, there are no widely available applications for true wireless power.
Two new approaches to wireless power may be about to change that, however. First, a company called uBeam is working on using a form of ultrasonic emissions to power phones from a longer distance. The company has attracted big name VC support from a number of notable backers like Andreessen Horowitz, Marissa Mayer, and Mark Cuban. Critics remain deeply skeptical of the technology, and it has yet to be proven, but if uBeam can do what it says, it could be a very big deal indeed.
Even more promising than uBeam is the technology from a company namedOssia. Ossia has developed a form of antenna like device called Cota that will be able to theoretically power any electrical device a consumer has from a phone to an electric toothbrush. Ossia’s Cota is set to launch for the commercial market in 2016 along with a series of manufacturers that are announcing compatible devices that will work with Cota.
It remains to be seen exactly what the specifications and consumer reception for Ossia and uBeam’s technology will be. Nonetheless, the need for wireless power is real across a variety of applications. From simple consumer cell phones to electric vehicles, wireless power would fill a real need. If power could be transmitted long distances wirelessly, it would completely change “range anxiety” which has held back the EV market.
Moreover, there are obvious applications in healthcare and defense as well. For instance, new technologies in defense like railguns and directed energy weapons are slowly starting to become a reality. However, the power needs for many of these devices are massive. If electricity could be transmitted wirelessly, then these types of defense technologies could be much more realistic. It’s unclear if long distance wireless power is even possible under the laws of physics, but for now mankind is just starting to push the envelope and companies like Ossia and uBeam are leading the way.
By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com
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