It doesn’t matter if you’re at the office or at home, take a look under your workstation. See the tangle of power cords, adapters and multi-plugs. What an ugly, convoluted spaghetti monster we have created over the years.
Well, now you can kiss it all goodbye. The first commercial property to dispense totally with electrical plugs and wires has been launched in New York.
Think of it as wireless electricity. Think of it as the last mobile frontier. Based on MIT’s WiTricity, it literally enables appliances to draw their electrical power without wires.
The floors and ceilings of One Power Plaza contain a grid of antennas that pulse magnetic waves with a specific frequency.
The property owners supply tenants with an assortment of small antennas, each about the size of a credit card, that plug into the power supply of printers, laptops and chargers and enable them to draw their power directly ‘out of thin air’.
There’s not much new about the technology, it’s been talked about for centuries, but the practical implementation has created an innovative step change in power use.
“We see that this will change office and shopping mall architecture, design and construction for ever. We can now think out of the practical limitations imposed by wires and electrical supply,” says the Urban Land Institute’s CEO Cy Trust.
“Some industries are not going to like this development, but soon we’ll look back at the quaint old days when electricity was ‘wired’.”
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
The MIT design consists of two copper coils. One, attached to the power source, is the sending unit. Rather than send out electromagnetic waves, it fills the space around it with a magnetic field oscillating at a particular frequency. The second copper coil is designed to resonate with that oscillating magnetic field. A copper coil within an oscillating magnetic field generates a current, enough, in MIT’s initial display in July 2007, to power a light bulb.
Power transformers make use of something similar, called magnetic induction, to transmit power between coils over short distances. But those coils aren’t designed to resonate with each other. Resonant coupling makes the transfer of energy almost a million times more efficient.
Since the magnetic field doesn’t radiate, most of the power that isn’t picked up by the receiving unit is bound to the originating coil, rather than being lost into the environment. That also means that this system has a limited range, and the smaller the receiver, the smaller that range is.
One problem: The supply coils can’t shut down when appliances are turned off. They have to remain on standby for the next device to power on, giving rise to high utility bills. One Power Plaza is unlikely to be occupied by any conservation groups.