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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Reader Comments

Thu, Jun 28, 2012 The Shrimper

Sorry, Dr.G. but UNTIL the energy efficiency (and DENSITY) of alternative fuels can be made comparable to petroleum, those technologies WILL not succeed. It doesn't take some evil corporate conspiracy (which is bogus, anyway). How many more Solydra's (i.e. trying to force technolgies on the market, that are not competitive or better than existing) must we sink our strinking tax resources into.?

Thu, Jun 28, 2012 EricE

Actually, what Tesla was propsing used Tesla Coils to inject power into the earth itself. A little more grand than two inductive loops that have to be within millimeters of each other :) From a letter during forclosure proceedings he was in: "In this system that I have invented it is necessary for the machine to get a grip of the earth..." (!!) Had Marconi not stolen Tesla's ideas and also credit for Radio, and had Tesla been more involved in patenting and/or enforcing his patents, who knows what the world would look like today. http://www.teslascience.org/pages/twp/tunnels.htm

Thu, Jun 28, 2012 CDG

Greg, I've been subscribing to GCN for about 3 years now and have always enjoyed reading your technical insights/analysis as well as your humorous snippets... but today's humor regarding the charger is HILARIOUS! Sadly, I could definitely relate. CDG

Thu, Jun 28, 2012 DrGoogle

More times than not, a new technology will make an existing technology obsolete, which means somebody is either going to lose a substantial amount of money and/or go out of business. Why do you think we still drive vehicles run on fossil fuels? Because the oil industry spends a tremendous amount of money and effort to keep it that way. Wireless power charging is just ONE of many technologies that are long overdue.

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