Air Power

5:45 PM -- This may sound a little strange at first, but it is in fact possible to send electrical power wirelessly, even over great distances. The concept of power satellites (Powerlites?) using microwaves or even lasers to beam power to Earth has been discussed for some time, but the economics of launching solar cell arrays large enough to make a difference are daunting. I personally like the concept that was demonstrated by NASA’s Tethered Satellite experiment -- drag a big metal ball through the ionosphere, generate some juice, and microwave it to Earth. Even gigawatts of electricity can be sent wirelessly, although anything to do with outer space is inherently expensive and fraught with lots of risk.

OK -- so how about beaming power terrestrially? Same idea: Generate power, send it, and consume it at the other end. Now, I’m not talking about inductive magnetic fields here. That process is also well understood, but not horribly efficient. As it turns out, a team at MIT is working on another interesting approach, involving 6.4MHz waves and resonance. Some claim this work goes back to Nikola Tesla, but there is clearly new research involved here.

I don’t think this work is going to result in a practical replacement for batteries, but it is interesting that the mobile-power problem is stimulating so much interesting thought. Practical applications, regardless, are no doubt at least a few years away. But stay tuned -- I have a feeling there are a lot of others tinkering with wireless power, and, who knows? Something practical just might appear sooner rather than later.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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