Wireless energy may sound like an idea from a science fiction novel, but it is actually all around us. Microwaves, radio waves and sound waves, are all forms of energy that transmit through the air, and remain unseen by human eyes. Scientists are now getting closer to developing a method of transmitting energy from one device to the other without the use of wires or conductors. This could potentially mean the ability to charge our laptop, phone, camera, and any number of devices wirelessly from a single point, and this energy could even be transmitted over great distances.
Wireless energy is by no means a new concept. The inventor and physicist Nikola Tesla first demonstrated the idea by remotely lighting phosphorescent bulbs at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Using the same scientific principles as Tesla, researchers at the University of Reading have now developed the first wireless energy transfer system. There are many different methods of transferring energy, but none that have shown the same promise and efficiency as Tesla’s original design.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of wireless energy transfer in the form of radio waves. This method is used primarily for the transmission of information, as it is inefficient for powering devices due to the energy scattering in all directions during transmission. Tesla’s design is based on the principle of resonance, whereby certain objects vibrate at a specific frequency in the Earth’s atmosphere. This is similar to the effect of playing a musical instrument close to a second one and causing it to vibrate, even though they are not physically connected. This occurs because the two instruments possess the same resonant frequency, and communicate with each other without the use of a conductor.
The modern wireless energy transfer system works by utilising metal coils which vibrate at the same frequency, and have the ability to transmit power directly between them. The power is transmitted as an electromagnetic wave that does not dissipate into the surrounding atmosphere, or interfere with other magnetic fields close by. This technology could also be expanded by having multiple receiver coils all connected to the same transmitter, and powering numerous devices simultaneously. This method is currently only able to transmit over a distance of a few metres, but researchers are working on a long range version which could wirelessly transmit power over several miles.
The benefits of this technology are almost too many to count, and all electrical appliance manufacturers will eventually incorporate this into their products. Imagine never having to hunt for the phone charger again, or spend hours untangling electrical wires. It would even solve the problem of getting power to remote areas, and save money on installing miles of electricity pylons. Experts are predicting that the first wirelessly charged smartphone will be on the market by the end of 2013, and that we will soon say goodbye to our outdated chargers. After a long hiatus of more than a hundred years, Tesla’s vision of wireless energy transfer has finally become reality, and for many it’s not a moment too soon.