Wireless charging is a farce. We’ve basically traded in charging cables for custom-built surfaces that only work if we place our phones right on top of them.
What we want is to walk into a room and have our iPhone 8 start charging automatically. And it looks like that dream is now a tick closer to reality.
A team of scientists at Disney Research (yes, that Disney), have built a gadget-charging, device-powering room that’s safe for humans, their furniture and décor, if perhaps rather ugly.
In a very dense paper published last week in the journal PLOS One, Disney researchers Matthew Chabalko, Mohsen Shahmohammadi and Alanson Sample describe the development of “Volumetric wireless power for livable spaces.”
Researchers built a free-standing room with aluminum panels covering the walls, floor and ceiling. In the center of it, a two-inch copper pipe runs vertically from floor to ceiling.
Electric current runs down through the pipe, into the floor, up the walls, over the ceiling and back into the pipe, looping at 1.3 million times per second.
That looping electricity creates a room-filling magnetic field that runs in a circular pattern perpendicular to the pole.
In the center of the length of pipe, they placed an array of capacitors. The in-pipe capacitors manage the electromagnetic frequency, lowering it until the electric and magnetic fields are separated. Basically it’s an electromagnetic field, without the electricity.
An environment pulsing with invisible magnetic and electric waves doesn’t sound safe, but the researchers ran simulations to prove that it’s safe to transmit 1.9 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power up to 320 USB-powered devices, without turning our delicate bodies into electrified piles of goo.
It’s not clear, though, what safety precautions are needed around the copper pole. The research paper suggests that it could be equipped with intrusion detection or surrounded with a decorative wall.
In the end, the researchers suggest that this application could have enormous potential.
“Ultimately this unexplored form of wireless power offers a seamless charging experience when entering a QSCR enabled space as easily as data is transfer [sic] through the air,” the authors write.
There are, obviously other hurdles, like where you’ll place the copper tube and, more importantly, how to retrofit existing mobile devices and home technology like fans to support this wireless, over-the-air charging technology.
Even so the promise of wireless charging homes, rooms, hotel rooms and restaurants may finally be here. Is this breakthrough too late for the iPhone 8 (or iPhone X) if and when it ships this fall? Probably.