The Future World of Wireless Electricity


MIT Assistant Professor of Physics Marin Soljačić couldn’t sleep. The sound of his wife’s dying cell phone beeping over and over as it went dead was keeping him up. One night he laid awake thinking, “if there was so much electricity running through the house and in nearby objects, surely some of them could charge the stupid phone.” He was right. Soljačić transformed that nuisance and theory into a solution using principles of wireless power transmission. The solution will allow him to never have to listen to his wife’s dying phone again. Of course, Marin Soljačić was not the first to conceptualize wireless electricity, his work is based on many others’ research and discoveries in the field of wireless electricity.

This video is a TEDTalks Video posted on, which features Eric Giler Demonstrating Wireless Electricity.

Wireless Electricity in History

The Wardenclyffe Tower also known as the Tesla Tower, was an early wireless telecommunications tower designed by Nikola Tesla, one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity. Tesla is recognized as one of the first to conceptualize and use wireless electricity. The Wardenclyffe Tower was intended for commercial trans-Atlantic wireless telephony, broadcasting, and to demonstrate the transmission of power without interconnecting wires.

Many people doubted that Tesla’s tower would work, and to their credit, it didn’t. When Tesla flipped the witch on his 200-foot-tall, 130-foot-long, 1,000,000-volt Colorado Springs tower, sparks flew out of the base and the surrounding grass went blue. Despite initial failures, and the triumph of wired electricity over wireless, innovation in the field has slowly matured since Tesla’s early steps. Today, many new inventors and entrepreneurs have stepped up to the plate to add to Tesla’s creation, lighting the way for a number of others to advance in the field, or prosper financially through business development. [1]


Electricity as Art

Richard Box, an Artist who had a residency in 2002 with Bristol University’s Physics Department, paid a farmer £200 and planted 1301 fluorescent tubes, which he collected as discards from local hospitals and institutions, under the power lines. In his photo, the fluorescents are powered by the electric field generated by the overhead power line’s power loss while the opposite end rests planted in the earth. According to, fluorescent tubes glow when electrical voltage is set up across it. The electric field set up inside the tubes excites atoms of mercury gas, making them emit ultraviolet light. This invisible light strikes the phosphor coating on the glass tubes, making them glow. Because power lines are typically 400,000 volts and Earth is at an electrical potential voltage of zero volts, the pylons designed to support the power lines create electric fields between the cables they carry and the ground.

The stunt is said by some to be a cause to show people the harmful effects of living near power lines, though Box denies this. While the stunt does a good job of demonstrating wireless electricity, it was not meant as a safety commentary. When Box was asked why he did the stunt, he replied “For me, it was just the amazement of taking something that’s invisible and making it visible,” he says. “When it worked, I thought: ‘This is amazing.’’’ [2][3]

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Pathways to Wireless Electricity

Last Year, Fast Company published an article showing the different ways the world could reach wireless technology. It’s still too soon to tell which wireless technologies will ultimately prevail, but the publication states that a handful of companies are close to uncovering the revolution. Here are their methods: [4]

Inductive Coupling

The first wireless powering system to market is the inductive coupling device, much like the one Tesla saw in his dreams, but a lot smaller. This device has been developed for handheld electronics such as gaming devices, cell phones, or media peripherals. It looks like a mouse pad and sends power through the air, at a distance of up to a few inches above the unit. The powered coil inside the pad creates a magnetic field which induces electric current to flow through a small secondary coil that’s built into or added on to any portable device, like a flashlight, camera, phone, or a cellphone. The electrical current flows in that secondary coil and charges the device’s onboard rechargeable battery. [9]

Radio Frequency Harvesting

The induction systems are only the beginning. Some of the most visually arresting examples of wireless electricity’s transmission are based on what’s known as radio frequency, or RF. While less efficient, RF transmissions work across distances of up to 85 feet. In Radio Frequency, electricity is transformed into radio waves, which are transmitted across a room, received by devices that are being called power harvesters, and then translated back into low-voltage direct current. These harvesters and RF transmissions could give way to small electrics or appliances powered completely without cords or replacing batteries. Imagine a future where smoke detectors or clocks never need their batteries replaced. [10]

Magnetically Coupled Resonance

Magnetically Coupled Resonance (or WiTricity, as dubbed by it’s inventor MIT’s Soljačić) is powerful enough to power an entire room of electrics, assuming the room is filled with enabled devices. WiTricity uses two coils — one powered, one not, just like eCoupled’s system — but it differs radically in the following way: Soljačić’s coils don’t have to be close to each other to transfer energy. Instead, they depend on a technique that is called magnetic resonance. This technique resembles acoustical resonance, which allows an opera singer to break a glass across the room by vibrating it with the correct frequency of her voice’s sound waves. Similarly, magnetic resonance can launch an energetic response in something far away. [11]

Wireless Energy First Movers

Naturally, companies are racing to be the first to successfully solve the wireless electricity puzzle. The future holds a world with little or no wires draped across floors or desk space, or hanging from electronics placed on a wall. These companies see the value in developing the technology for end user consumption and are sprinting to be the company that monetizes it. Companies like WiTricity and PowerCast are already doing so successfully. Check out the video below to see their progress. [5][6]

Nissan’s Electric Car

Nissan has made good use of wireless electricity, creating a base for their cars that they claim will make charging electric cars easier and faster. Their wireless charging system is based on concept of inductive coupling. Like the mat that was previously mentioned to charge electronics, this mat would allow the car to park on it and be charged from the electricity being emitted from the mat. Nissan also boasts that their car is a Zero Emission Vehicle, which will use the parking bay and not a single wire. Other electric cars use many plugs and are often confusing to use. [12]

Sony is developing no-chord electronics that will make sleek interior design easier

Sony Corporation announced the development of a wireless power transfer system that eliminates the use of power cables from their electronic products. Using this system, up to 60 Watts of electrical energy can be transferred over a distance of 50cm.

This new wireless power transfer system incorporates a form of contact-free electrical energy transmissions which are based on Soljacic’s magnetic resonance. Sony has also used high radio frequency technologies for use in wireless communications and broadcast products to create a new rectifier that realizes both high speed and high efficiency. The new wireless power transfer system combines these technologies to realize a transfer efficiency of 60%. [13]

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Power mat Wireless Charging mat let’s you just out the phone down and go.

Cell Phone or PDAThink of the convenience of just laying your phone or controller down and having it charge for it’s next use. That’s the simplicity of the Powermat Charging Station. Wrap up those electronic devices in the sleek, hardly noticeable sleeve or attach a device adapter to the battery door and you’ll have a full charge in just about the same amount of time it takes to charge regularly.

There are two types of Powermat, one designed for home and office use, and another portable version that folds for travel. Both are priced at $99USD.

The Powermat’s charging station has one cord and can accommodate three devices. It has a “drop and charge” function that enables you to do away with all the power cords you would have to fiddle with just to charge each device.

The receiver technologies vary per device, but they all have the same efficiency and power transfer. Protective cases that receive electricity are available for the Apple iPhone 3G, iPod Touch ($40USD), and Nintendo DS ($30USD). For older Apple devices, a receiver dock may be necessary, these are designed to be used with iPod Classic and iPod Nanos as well ($40USD). Rather than a case, Blackberry products (Bold, Pearl, Curve 8300 and 8900) get the battery door replacement that acts as an electricity receiver, which is priced at $30USD. [7]

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The Future of Wireless Electricity

Experts predict that a large majority of our electronics will be completely wireless in the next 3 to 7 years. Wireless electricity still has many efficiency issues to overcome before it can be fully integrated as a green technology, but researchers are close to solving those problems.

*Images provided by unless otherwise noted.

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