Monday, August 25, 2008

Intel: Magnet chargers may prove a draw

The days of tripping over a tangle of wires and cables around the house could soon be over. Intel, the electronics company, has demonstrated a prototype system that could power gadgets without having to plug them into a wall socket.

The technology relies on a scientific phenomenon known as "magnetic induction". If the electric coils inside devices can be made to resonate at the same frequency, then they can be made to transmit energy to each other over a distance.

In theory, that means that laptops, mobile phones and other electronic devices could be powered or recharged simply by placing them within a few feet of "transmit resonator" which would "broadcast" the frequency to the electrical device.

In time, Intel said, these resonators could be embedded in walls, work surfaces and furniture, meaning that gadgets are automatically recharged as you walk into a room.

Intel's chief technology officer, Justin Rattner, showed off the Wireless Energy Resonant Link at the company's annual development conference in San Francisco. He successfully managed to wirelessly light a 60 watt lightbulb from an energy source situated three feet away. The system is based on work originally carried out by the Massacheusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

"The trick with wireless power is not can you do it; it's can you do it safely and efficiently," said Intel researcher Josh Smith. "It turns out the human body is not affected by magnetic fields; it is affected by elective fields.

"So what we are doing is transmitting energy using the magnetic field not the electric field."

However, the technology is some way off being ready for commercial use. In studies carried out by both organisations, research teams have been using large charging coils to wirelessly power devices, and these coils are too big for every day use.

Mr Rattner said Intel was in the early stages of modifying a laptop to accept wireless power, but that one of the major hurdles was preventing the electromagnetic field generated from interfering with the computer's operation.

Technology experts have welcomed Intel's support for developing a wireless electricity system.

"Initially it eliminates chargers and eventually it eliminates batteries all together," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with Enderle Group.

"That is potentially a world changing event. This is the closest we've had to something being commercially available in this class."

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