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The team consists of (top to bottom, left to right) Andre Kurs, Prof. John Joannopoulos, Aristeidis Karalis, Prof. Marin Soljacic, Prof. Peter Fisher, and Robert Moffatt. (Source: MIT, Aristeidis Karalis)
A 60-watt bulb illuminates for the future of wireless power

"Wireless" isn't exactly a new concept to computing. Network connectivity, USB devices and even displays had their cords cut in recent years.  Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took the final steps towards cutting the last tether of the laptop user: the power cord.

Transmitting power wirelessly is traditionally limited to line-of-sight methods such as microwave or laser, which have a "significant negative effect" on anyone or anything unfortunate enough to be caught in the middle.

Playfully dubbed "WiTricity" by the team, the researchers were able to power a sixty-watt lightbulb from seven feet away using the principle of magnetically coupled resonance. The basic concept is similar to existing electromagnetic inductive chargers, but does not suffer the massive drop in efficiency when distance is increased.

The experiment works as follows. Two magnetic coils resonate at the same frequency.  When one of these coils is attached to a power source, the resonant magnetic field produced by the coil increases dramatically.  The second, unpowered coil "couples" with the resonating magnetic field.  The resonance from the second coil is then converted back to electricity for the device.

The MIT researches are quick to tout magnetically coupled resonance over electromagnetic induction.  Aristeidis Karalis, an MIT graduate student that worked on the project, states, "Here is where the magic of the resonant coupling comes about. The usual non-resonant magnetic induction would be almost 1 million times less efficient in this particular system."

In addition to increased efficiency, the WiTricity project does not transmit biologically harmful electromagnetic radiation during operation.  Additionally, line-of-sight issues present in microwave technology disappear with WiTricity; magnetic fields are more-or-less unaffected by non-metallic materials in most environments. 

The most current WiTricity experiments use coils approximately 20" in diameter and operate at distances of approximately two meters.  The team hopes to eventually power a notebook from a several meters away.




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