By Association Adviser staff
Imagine charging your cell phone without plugging it in, mounting a TV on a wall with no outlets or juicing up your electric car without having to plug it in. What if your laptop computer, smart phone and digital camera no longer needed a charging base every few hours and your digital picture frames could be hung on the wall? Sound too good to be true? Well, it's possible as long as you're inside a so-called wireless energy zone, which can be located in your house, on trains, in airports or at your workplace. If you haven't experienced a wireless energy zone, you will soon. More and more are cropping up every day, and you may have already passed through one without knowing it.
Thanks to wireless electricity, tangled wires and replaceable batteries could be a thing of the past in millions of offices and home entertainment rooms. You'd no longer need disposable batteries in devices like video game controllers and other gadgets that must be used in close proximity to other sources of power. Wireless electricity technology operates safely and efficiently over distances from centimeters to several meters — and delivers power from milliwatts to kilowatts.
Wireless electricity also is very safe, according to David Schatz, director of marketing and business development for Watertown, Mass.-based WiTricity (http://www.witricity.com/). “We use an oscillating magnetic field to carry energy from point A to point B. It is as weak as the Earth's magnetic field. It is not one you can perceive or feel.”
WiTricity will have its biggest impact in mobile electronic devices and electric cars, said Schatz. It streamlines the charging of mobile devices so people don't have to think about it, he explained. “You should never have to actively plug in your device when it is low on power. It should be able to charge itself.” This applies to electric cars, as well. “Today, you literally have to plug your ride in, usually in your garage or place of work. That can be pretty inconvenient,” Schatz noted. “With technology such as WiTricity's, you can park your car and it self-charges.”
Not sold yet on wireless electricity? How about getting it at little or no cost? Schatz said it should not add appreciably to the cost of products in the mobile device market.
Wireless electricity also has many environmental benefits. Companies make about 40 billion disposable batteries each year, and wireless electricity could do away with that. Laptop batteries are always burning out and needing a charge. In response, WiTricity built a coil into a standard laptop computer, and it can get power from behind a wall in your office. You can move it around the room, and the laptop will continue to charge.
Experts project that many players will enter the wireless power market soon, and the technology is likely to become mainstream before too long. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based PowerBeam (http://www.powerbeaminc.com/) touts wireless lamps and picture frames powered by technology that can beam optical energy into photovoltaic cells using laser diodes.
Another method is the eCoupled wireless electricity technology created by Fulton Innovation (http://www.fultoninnovation.com/) of Ada, Mich. This solution utilizes near-field inductive coupling that eliminates the need for power cords by creating an electromagnetic conduit.
While the technology sounds complex, its ramifications are profound for associations, businesses and households. Workspaces cluttered by tangles of wires can be completely cleaned up when the technology is installed in an office with multiple desks and workstations.
The eCoupled technology has gained widespread recognition thanks to partnerships with Motorola, Bosch, Energizer and Texas Instruments, among others. One reason? A five-watt adaptor used to recharge a device for one hour a day will consume at least as much power on standby during the remaining 23 hours. In some cases, up to seven times as much juice is used during standby versus normal operation, said Fulton. Wireless electricity changes all that.
“By integrating our wireless power technology into our partners' products, we continue to prove there are no boundaries for the application of eCoupled technology,” said Dave Baarman, Fulton Innovation's director of advanced technologies, in a recent Consumer Energy Report interview.
The eCoupled method — based on magnetic fields — is capable of transmitting digital messages between the power source and electronic device so it can indicate such information as power requirements, remaining battery life and whether or not the device is capable of being recharged. The downside is that it can operate only at close range.
By contrast, WiTricity relies on “highly coupled magnetic resonance” and thus can operate at longer range. Since it's not dependent on “line-of-sight,” WiTricity is capable of powering an entire room and even an entire house. Magnetic resonance can launch an energetic response in something far away, much like a professional vocalist can shatter glass with sound waves alone.
According to a study by the Department of Energy, more than 700 million power-supply devices (chargers, charging stands, transformers, etc.) will be sold in the United States in 2010, a $6 billion market. Worldwide, the market runs to about $30 billion.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Energy Star Products Group, there are at least two external power adapters in the world for every man, woman and child on the planet — about 12-to-15 billion of them.
Eliminating the cost of purchasing various products to charge electronic devices will continue to assist in the push for this new technology — that is, if the savvy tech itself isn't enough of an encouragement.
Another perk is that wireless electricity is more “green” than conventional charging methods. According to the Department of Energy, electronic devices consume, on average, 75 percent of their energy when the device is not in use.
Protecting the planet while you save time, money and eliminate clutter in your home or office — what's not to like?
Naylor Editor Shaneen “Shani” Lyon contributed to this article.
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