August 26, 2008 While it's hardly on the grand, magical scale of Nikola Tesla's late 1890s plans to build a global, free wireless electricity grid, Intel has used its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) to demonstrate its ability to transmit power wirelessly over short distances, through walls and without any harm to people standing between the transmitter and the receiver. Eventually using this technology it's possible that whenever your laptop, mobile phone or other portable device comes within range of a power transmitter, it could quietly charge itself without ever needing to be plugged in. Wireless power zones could easily be set up in offices, airport lounges or other public spaces and any device with an appropriate receiver could quietly draw power as needed. The Intel project to "cut the final cord" draws on significant 2007 work by MIT.
Researchers at Intel have demonstrated a working Wireless Resonant Energy Link system at IDF that could eventually lead to wireless power systems on Intel products. In the demonstration, a 60-watt light bulb was powered wirelessly from a short distance away. The receiver, however, is as yet quite bulky and it's hard to imagine the large wire frame being an attractive feature on a portable device.
In the very early 1900s, at his formidable but doomed Wardenclyffe research facility, Nikolas Tesla demonstrated the lighting of a gas discharge tube by placing it in an electric field created between two metal plates - the more recent technology would require just one transmission unit, and uses evanescent wave coupling of electromagnetic waves to transmit power in a method considered safer for humans.
The MIT technology has a few issues - it's quite directional, meaning the power receiver has to be within a fairly narrow corridor if it's to receive any power at all, and over a distance of 2 meters it operates at only about 40% energy efficiency. Still, it's out there and working, and Intel's research could lead to some very cool consumer products if it makes it past the presentation party-trick stage.
Check out the Research@Intel blog for more info, and see the video below for a short overview of what Intel has been working on, as well as the wireless light globe demonstration.