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Wireless power charging: Tesla's 19th-century idea finally catching on

Everyone knows what a pain it is to have to plug in their electronic devices for recharging. Or, more accurately, to remember to plug said devices in, and then try to remember where the blasted charger is. And the problem can be compounded when you own multiple wireless devices, as a lot of people today do.

And then there’s the disposal problem seemingly every time you get a new device. The landfill space that was supposed to be saved by fewer batteries being thrown away has ended up being filled by old power adapters instead.

Fortunately for us, wireless recharging has come along, in the form of those fancy pads that can charge phones sitting nearby, and they are making some headway in the electronic device market. Right now they work, but their range is limited.

How wireless charging works, image courtesy of PowerbyProxi

Image courtesy of PowerbyProxi. More info here.

Wireless recharging is an idea we’d love to see catch on. But how revolutionary is it?

Actually, Nicola Tesla published patents for wireless power transmission in the 1890s, and even dreamed of intercontinental wireless transmission of industrial power. But like many radical ideas, a lot of Tesla’s weren’t implemented until much, much later. 

It wasn’t until early in this century that work began on the magnetic induction pads that enable you to recharge a compatible device just by laying it on the pad. And only a few years ago, in 2009, the Wireless Power Consortium was founded and began developing standards for wireless power transmission.

Now, more and more new devices are equipped to handle wireless recharging. You can even retrofit your old smart phone to recharge that way. Public recharging stations are becoming even more prevalent in some forward-thinking cities.

Soon, recharging cords will be a thing of the past, and we will send the last of them to the landfill.

This just goes to show that, when a revolutionary scientist like Tesla says something, we should listen, even 120 years later. Often, the one thing that keeps most ideas like this from being implemented immediately is a material or component that is either not common enough or too costly or difficult to manufacture.

Later, when we get to the point where that is no longer a problem, we tend to forget about older patents that could take advantage of the new development.

I don’t know whether there is a solution here, since there are a lot of patents that would need to be revisited every few years or so. But hopefully other good ideas won’t take more than 100 years to see fruition.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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