Magazine article Newsweek International

Power from a Distance

Magazine article Newsweek International

Power from a Distance

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Flavelle

Roy Kuennen had a problem to solve. In 1996, one of Amway Corp.'s products, a household water filter, kept breaking down. The filter used an ultraviolet lamp to kill bacteria, but the lamp had to be submerged in water, which corroded the electrical wires that powered the lamp. Kuennen, an engineer, got the wacky idea to remove the wires altogether and power the lamp with a coil magnet.

Twelve years later, the wireless revolution that brought the mobile phone, Bluetooth and WiFi is about to extend its claim to the domain of power. A handful of companies are now trying to beam power directly to mobile phones, PDAs, laptops and other gadgets without our having to remember to plug them in overnight. The promise of wire-free power, though, may run afoul of the current penchant for all things green because it usually involves a loss of efficiency.

The first products on the market won't force consumers into paroxysms of guilt. A charging pad for the Motorola Razr, made by WildCharge of Boulder, Colorado, doesn't waste much power because it comes in direct contact with the cell phone.

But it also falls short of Kuennen's original idea--to charge gadgets from a distance. To do this, he found a way to create a powerful magnetic field in one area of a room--a kind of hot zone within which gadgets receive a charge. The idea is similar to that of a common induction coil: an electric current running through a coiled wire creates a magnetic field, which can induce a current in another coil nearby. Fulton Innovation, which Kuennen helped found, now makes a device that uses a magnetic coil, concealed under a desktop or other surface, to transmit power to a second, smaller coil within the device. Efficiency is 98 percent, Fulton claims, if the device is a few centimeters away, but drops off sharply at greater distances. …

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