Apple Shows its Confidence in Wireless Electricity with New Patent Filing
Wires, these insulated conductors of electricity, are soon to be a thing of the past. With a recent patent filing for “Wireless power utilization in a local computing environment,” Apple will probably be the first major personal electronics supplier to incorporate wireless charging units within their devices.
Currently, wireless charging technology is predominantly available for mobile phones, and requires that the mobile device is placed directly on a specialized charging mat which ironically needs to be plugged into the wall via a wire. Apple’s new patent filing suggests that personal electronics will soon be able to wirelessly charge from up to one meter’s distance.
Simple as it may seem, wireless power transmission is a very complex process to master. With much lower levels of efficiency than current copper wire technology, wireless power transmission is in its infancy and nowhere near its full potential. There are multiple ways to transmit power wirelessly, of which the most common form used today is direct induction, but current consumer technology still requires one thing or another to be plugged into the wall.
Current consumer wireless chargers require that the mobile device being charged be placed directly on a charging mat. This somewhat defeats the purpose of having a wireless charging station (what’s the difference between having to place your device on a mat vs. having to plug it into a charger, both of which are connected to the wall)? Also, only a phone with the proper case that has been configured for magnetic coupling can be used with the charging station (another added and supplementary expense and component). Furthermore, most consumers are oblivious to the fact that charging occurs only when the phone is placed in a particular position on the mat for the electromagnetic induction to occur. While some newer charging mats allow the users to place the phone virtually anywhere on the mat, most consumer wireless chargers require that the device is placed on the “sweet spot” of the mat (Finding the sweet spot vs. getting the micro-usb connected seem like two sides of the same frustrating coin).
The future of wireless power transmission seems to be very promising. Several venture capital backed firms are testing another form of wireless power transmission known as resonant magnetic induction. This technology, also known as “near field wireless transmission of electrical energy” can achieve transmission at greater distances. Preliminary testing has shown that the base station’s oscillating magnetic field can be coupled with devices 1-3 meters away. In layman’s terms, a base station emitting the magnetic field can charge multiple devices when they are simply within the 1-3 meter radius. Once the range has been extended, which this 2007 study from MIT demonstrates is possible, theoretically, each home will have a large wireless generator, similar to a water heating tank, to have perpetual charging of all electronic devices.
While it’s purported that transmission via resonant magnetic induction is safe for biological tissue, more studies are needed to validate the safety when larger currents are induced to power an entire home or city at much greater distances. Especially within the macroscopic ecological schema, research is needed to demonstrate whether or not it’ll disrupt the myriad of biological life forms that are sensitive to electromagnetic fluctuations.
Video Highlights of Wireless Charging Electronics
Fulton Innovation, a leader in wireless power transmission technology features its charging unit in the all-electric Tesla automobile.
Power Cast, producer of a chip that can harness the radio-frequencies found all around us and convert it into electricity, and Witricity, producer of magnetic resonance technology, are two other leaders in the wireless arena featured in this video.
*On June 23rd, 2011 General Electric and its venture capital partners invested in Witricity’s technology.