August 22, 2008
Intel Makes Headway on Wireless Recharging
By John Markoff
Intel has made progress in a technology that could lead to the wireless recharging of gadgets and the end of the power-cord spaghetti behind electronic devices.It says it has increased the efficiency of a technique for wirelessly powering consumer gadgets and computers, a development that could allow a person to simply place a device on a desktop or countertop to power it. It could bring the consumer electronics industry a step closer to a world without wires.
On Thursday, the chip maker planned to demonstrate the use of a magnetic field to broadcast up to 60 watts of power two to three feet, or 60 to 90 centimeters. It says it can do that while losing only 25 percent of the power in transmission.
"Something like this technology could be embedded in tables and work surfaces," said Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, "so as soon as you put down an appropriately equipped device it would immediately begin drawing power."
The presentation is part of the company's Intel Developer Forum, a series of events here that the company uses to showcase new technologies in personal computing and related consumer technologies.
The research project, which is being led by Joshua Smith, an Intel researcher at a company laboratory in Seattle, builds on the work of Marin Soljacic, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who pioneered the idea of wirelessly transmitting power using resonant magnetic fields. The MIT group refers to the idea as WiTricity, a play on wireless and electricity. Both the MIT group and the Intel researchers are exploring a phenomenon known as "resonant induction," making it possible to transmit power several feet without wires.
Induction is already used to recharge electric toothbrushes, but that approach is limited by the need for the toothbrush to be placed in the base station.
The MIT group has demonstrated efficiencies of 50 percent at ranges of several yards.
Intel is in the midst of an internal debate over whether the technology might also permit the shift to supercapacitors, which can be recharged far more quickly than today's batteries. "In the future, your kitchen counters might do it," Rattner said. "You'd just drop your espresso maker down on them and you would never have to plug it in."
The Intel team describes its system as a "wireless resonant energy link," and is experimenting with antennas less than two feet in diameter to remotely light a 60-watt light bulb.
In 2006, the MIT researchers demonstrated that by sending electromagnetic waves around a waveguide it was possible to produce "evanescent" waves that could permit electricity to wirelessly tunnel to another waveguide "tuned" to the transmitting loop.
Several start-up companies, including WildCharge, based in Boulder, Colorado, and WiPower, in Altamonte Springs, Florida, have already announced related wireless charging technologies. But these demonstrations have required that the consumer gadgets touch the charging station.
The Intel researchers said they were thinking about designing a system that would make it possible to recharge a laptop computer without wires.
"From Intel's position that seems like the thing to shoot for right now," Smith said. The receiving antenna is about the size of something that could easily fit against the bottom of a conventional laptop computer. "It could be that cellphones and PDAs are even more compelling, but I think we are going to start with the laptop. It's easy to dial down from laptops," he said.
The researchers said that Intel could produce a prototype design and that it might contribute to products by developing chip sets for manufacturers. At the research presentation Thursday, Smith planned to demonstrate an application using an electric field sensor - a natural capability of some fish - to give added dexterity to robotic arms and hands. He has designed a sensor system that makes it possible for a robot hand to gauge the size of an apple and then grasp it. The hand then carries the apple to an outstretched human hand. When it senses the hand, it drops the apple.
Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.
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