Following an Instapundit link to a story on Popular Mechanics this morning I ran across this story about an MIT effort at wireless power delivery. The concept isn’t new but it’s a fascinating implementation with some real promise if the technology pans out.
The idea is to have transmitter and receiver coils on your various electrical devices. The transmitter coil generates a magnetic field from your electric grid that will be picked up by the receiver coils and turned back into electricity. The result is that you can set a coil-equipped lamp down anywhere in the source coil’s range and turn on the light without having it plugged into the wall. The same would be true of your laptop or cell phone charger – they’d supply power to the device via the coil and not via a power cord.
This has tremendous possibilities. As a homeowner, I’m constantly looking at projects in the house where I could use a wall outlet or an electrical circuit in a place where none currently exists. I have the experience to install those myself, but running a completely new circuit through the walls of my house can be a project in itself. Being able to deploy something like a sconce light or ceiling fan without tearing up drywall to run a new circuit would be wonderful.
As a network engineer, however, my very first thought when I read this story was “How would I secure the access to the coil so it runs my stuff and nothing else?” In other words, how could I keep someone from setting a receiver coil down outside my home and leeching power from my electric grid? Like wireless internet, the transmission of this magnetic field doesn’t just stop at the walls of my home, so being able to hook up to the power from outside is far more than just “likely.” It’s absolutely doable. Wi-Fi has various methods to secure the access such as encryption protocols and access lists. But those methods don’t block reception of the actual radio signal, they only halt someone receiving that signal from actually using it to access the network. Are such methods even applicable when the transmission itself is the important part?
There are cases where people are getting arrested for hooking on to an unprotected wireless internet access point and I’ve written about my feelings on the matter before. If someone takes it upon themselves to operate a transmitter that allows the signal to extend past his property and makes no effort to secure the access to that service, how is it theft when someone accesses that service from outside the owner’s property? I don’t think it is which makes securing this “WiTricity” idea a critical feature and not just a bonus.
It’s still a fascinating technology and bears watching.