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Wireless Electricity?

A century later Nikola Tesla’s idea of wireless electricity has become reality. A startup called WiTricity has been able to develop prototypes that are able to wirelessly transfer power over small distances. Katie Hall, The company’s Chief Technology Officer, explains that “we’re not actually putting electricity in the air. What we’re doing is putting a magnetic field in the air (CNN).” The transmission waves are said to be similar to the waves that create WiFi. The transmission process uses live electric coils to create a magnetic field. Power can be transmitted to a device that enters the field.

Although the technology is still in development, it could have remarkable implications on the future of our world. The wireless transmission of electricity could eliminate the need to charge any electrical device. This would cause productivity increases all over the global economy. For example, the inefficiencies caused by devices running out of power would decrease. The article highlights the use of wireless charging in internal medical devices and electric cars. Hall makes a powerful prediction near the end of the article: “The idea of eliminating cables would allow us to re-design things in ways that we haven’t yet thought of, that’s just going to make our devices and everything that we interact with, that much more efficient, more practical and maybe even give brand new functionality (CNN).”

While the future development of this technology is not guaranteed, the adoption of wireless technology could help offset or even counter the headwinds to innovation that Gordon 2012 presents.


  1. James Dillard James Dillard

    Even though they are transferring electricity short distances, I wonder what their limitations are. Using magnets as a way to transfer electricity from one source to another has been implemented but not in a marketable way. Even if my iphone has small magnets on it to help harbor electricity towards its battery, don’t these same magnets harm electrical devices and shorten their time spans? I am interested to see what things can be powered in this manner and if any practical applications have been tried.

  2. You can already buy cell phones that use inductance technology for recharging; one luxury car company even has a recharging pad as an option. In field testing are bigger systems for recharging plug-in hybrid electric vehicles; I’ve seen these pads in the parking lots of auto parts firms. Neither of those applications are sold by WiTricity, who may therefore be in other niches or a player in name only.

    From a macroeconomic perspective, however, this is at best marginal gain, a real help for certain specific applications but not something that would replace house wiring and high-voltage transmission lines. So it’s one (more) example of why we have increases in total factor productivity, because there are a host of such small increments. It does not undermine Robert Gordon’s claim that we will only have small increments.

    • peaseley peaseley

      The “wireless” charging pads are not the same technology. They really are not wireless at all. In order to use a charge pad like the one avaibable in this luxury car you have to buy a special case for the device you intend to charge. The case is basically just another wire from the device’s charging port to a padon the outside of the case. The pad on the case basically plugs into the pad and charges the device. The car example is the same basic idea. I agree that this technology is almost gimicky and has no real productivity gains. However, the technology that WiTricity is working on promises the transmission of electricity through the air. I believe the development of the wireless transmission of electricity, not inductance technology, would have a huge impact on productivity.

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