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Wireless charging of our phones becoming the reality

Monday, July 13, 2015
Science and Society

Human beings have the remarkable capacity to enhance their abilities with appendages of various kinds. In the old days, a warrior would always have his sword in his hand or on his person. Nowadays it is rare to find a person without a cell phone. The need for around the clock connectivity is clearly powerful. A totally discharged phone is viewed as something akin to a catastrophic event. 

The tremendous improvements in battery technology has been a boon to the cell phone user, albeit a temporary one. Facebooking, texting, talking, game playing combined with wireless connectivity have all served to undermine the gains made by the battery manufacturers. So much so, it has become almost obligatory for many to have an additional battery pack added to their phones. This, however, significantly increases the weight of the phone. 

The requirement to ensure that our phones are always charged has led to an industry in not only additional external battery packs for fast charging but also adaptors/chargers to allow for charging in vehicles. Of course, one may need to have at least two 120 volt chargers; one for the office and one for home. 

These are all two-wire devices. One wire to the outlet in the wall or floor and the other to the device. 

Many people have their cell phones and tablets (of both the medicinal and computational varieties, for body and mind respectively) near their beds. So nightly charging is a normal routine. In addition to having to remember to connect the charger to the devices, ensuring that the connectivity is good to allow for overnight charging, one still runs the risk of accidently causing the phone to fall when answering a call or “bouncing” the charging cable on getting up from the bed. In any event, these wires and cables tend to be unsightly.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies have given rise to wireless speakers making them conveniently portable. These technologies allow for the transfer of electronic signals (video, audio and data) wirelessly. This is tantamount to wirelessly transferring power, albeit at a low level. The transfer of larger amounts of power for charging purposes is the endgame. Most new smart phones can be charged wirelessly. 

Well, not quite. The wire/cable from the power outlet to the charging pad is still there but there is no cable to the phone. The phone is placed on the charging pad and the power is transferred wirelessly. This is clearly an improvement but the charging process is still bounded spatially. 

The goal, then, is to have a charging system similar to what obtains in the case of Wi-Fi or “Wi-Power” (Wi-Pow?). The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) recently reported that they developed a prototype for wireless charging of phones that works at distances of up to one half meter (a little more than a foot and one half). 

These device is omnidirectional and can charge several devices simultaneously. Furthermore it is reported to be safe to use around humans. KAIST is but one of many companies working on transmitting power wirelessly and developing devices for so doing. There is tremendous interest in this area with huge commercial applications. 

The technology has some way to go in order to become really useful. Wi-Fi technology has a range of several hundred feet and Bluetooth some thirty odd feet (ten metres), Wi-Tricity (Wi-Pow, my suggested name and which has a better ring to it) can, however, be quite useful and convenient in vehicles at the existing or slightly improves ranges. 

Several automotive manufacturers and looking at have this as a standard feature in forthcoming vehicles. Not to be left behind and anticipating demand in homes and businesses, manufacturers are looking at embedding this technology in coffee tables and other furniture.


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