Eric Giler Pimps Wireless Electricity at TED 2009

Wireless electricity is on the rise. That TV - it's not even plugged in.
Wireless electricity is on the rise. That TV – it’s not even plugged in.

Eric Giler wants to cut the cords out of your life. He’s the CEO of WiTricity, a company looking to provide the means to wirelessly connect all of your electronics to the current running through your walls. At TED 2009, Giler demonstrated how resonant magnetic fields between coils could wirelessly connect TVs and cell phones to power. Better still, walking between the coils doesn’t hurt you or even impede the transfer of energy. Check out his talk in full after the break.

Singularity Hub discussed wireless electricity back in the end of June, and we’re still pretty enamored with the idea. It’s the brainchild of Marin Soljacic from MIT, a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, who went on to found WiTricity. Intel is working on similar technology using Soljacic’s research, but they haven’t had the same level of demonstrations as Giler provided at TED.

As a company, WiTricity is still pretty young and pretty small. Now based out of Watertown, Massachussetts, it received $2 million in venture capital funds in 2007, and another $4 million of Series A funding in 2008. Plenty to get a marketable device ready in three to five years (Giler’s goal). While the materials used in such a device (wires, capacitors, etc) are commercially available and cheap, there’s undoubtedly a lot of engineering needed to get wireless electricity to work. I’d expect first generation devices to be relatively expensive, but with Intel as a competitor they will likely become less costly very quickly.

While everyone, Giler included, seems to focus on how this technology could bring you a cord-free lifestyle, I think the implications are much bigger than that. Right now, WiTricity’s magnetic resonance coupling is operating at about 50% efficiency. Better than batteries, but not nearly as nice as standard wall outlets. If they can improve the system considerably, we could have a means to electrify our public spaces on the cheap.

Just think, you have public WiFi now, what could we do with public WiTricity? Power your laptop? Sure. Just last month, Giler was at the First German Electric Vehicle Congress discussing a WiTricity charger for garages. Drive your electric vehicle over a mat, and a little while later it’s charged. Easy. But what about powering cars while in transit? Electric cars wouldn’t need heavy batteries anymore, they could run off of a grid set into or along highways. Carrying your fuel costs you fuel and WiTricity could change that quickly.

I believe Giler’s claims that all of this energy transfer can be down below the field exposure thresholds set by the law. However, if WiTricity takes off we are likely to see opposition from groups concerned with health and environmental impact. Rightfully so, wireless electricity should be vetted before it is used. Still, I’m willing to bet that it can overcome any resistance it may encounter. The benefits of a cordless, battery-less, and fuel-less existence are just too promising to pass up.

[Image Credit: TEDGlobal 2009]

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