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How Will Wireless Electricity Affect the Public and Private Sectors?

Wireless technology stands to benefit government and personal gadgets.

Wireless electricity has the potential to change the way the world lives and works. And if it takes off, the technology, which allows people to charge appliances and mobile devices without a cord, has massive societal implications.

Imagine being on a trip or vacation where, for hours, you're away from traditional outlets, but you're not worrying about plugging in a phone or laptop. Or you're driving countless miles without having to stop for gas or at a charging station. How about turning on a television in the living room or the portable hand mixer or microwave in the kitchen without plugging any of them in?

That’s wireless technology’s promise, and multiple companies are developing wireless charging gadgets to fulfill it, including Massachusetts-based start-up WiTricity. The company’s devices emit oscillating magnetic fields that transfer energy to wireless receivers in a process called wireless energy transfer. WiTricity is the exclusive licensee of wireless energy transfer tech and has dozens of patents that have either already been issued or are currently in development.

Founded in 2007 by MIT physicist Marin Solijacic, WiTricity’s owners and staff have ambitious plans for its future. They’ve formed partnerships with various manufacturers over the years, including Toyota. The car manufacturer licensed WiTricity’s charging tech in December 2013, and now plans to test ground-mounted pads that will charge electric cars that park over it, eliminating the need for a plug. Earlier this week, EarthTechling announced that WiTricity had partnered with TDK Corp. to develop wireless charging systems for cars, similar to Toyota’s plans.

But the company’s owners and employees aren’t just stopping at transportation. They hope the technology will find itself in multiple public- and private-sector scenarios. David Schatz, the company’s vice president of sales and business development, explained to Government Technology how it could change arguably everything people take for granted today.

“We expect a generation of consumers to grow up that just take it for granted that their devices always have a high state of charge and are always ready to go because there will be wireless charging available everywhere,” he said. “It’ll be available in your home, in your kitchen [and] on your desktop. If you happen to work at a desk, you just put your phone down and it charges. It’ll happen in transportation systems, cars, buses and airplanes.”

He predicts that people will expect wireless electricity no matter where they go, and where society goes, state and local government will follow.

“They’re going to need to think about all the infrastructure that people need for charging things in public places, and how can they put in place policies and programs to incentivize and streamline the process for making this wireless power available everywhere, not only for mobile phones, but also for electric vehicles,” Schatz said.

The same goes for medicine. Schatz claimed that doctors and engineers are limited in the types of implantable devices they can develop because extremely powerful ones would have to be plugged in, which is clearly a problem gadgets inside the human body. Wireless charging, however, eliminates that need.

“Doctors and companies that develop these things can put these devices in people, and they can be charged when they sleep or when they sit in a chair," Schatz said. "That’s going to really improve the quality of life and expand lifespan and hopefully also reduce [the] cost of medical care."

The company’s plans seem to be coming to fruition. WiTricity opened a second office in Utah in spring 2013, a location the company touted in a press release as a hub for “development of wireless power systems in the defense, industrial and transportation sectors.”

Schatz claimed that the company currently does business with the Department of Defense to wirelessly charge robots used to detect bombs, and also to build more charging stations for soldiers with heavy batteries.

“They’re looking to lighten the load of the soldiers by making it easier for them to use
rechargeable batteries and providing them more opportunities to get charged,” Schatz said. “They know that our technology is excellent for doing that kind of thing.”
Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.