Image credit: The University of Tokyo
The finished charging room as located at The University of Tokyo.

Wireless ‘charging room’ system could safely power lights, phones, laptops

Sept. 15, 2021
Researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Tokyo have developed a system to safely deliver electricity over the air -- and said the technology has the potential to transform entire buildings into wireless charging zones.

Researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) and the University of Tokyo have developed a system to safely deliver electricity over the air, potentially turning entire buildings into wireless charging zones.

As reported by the University of Michigan's Michigan News and detailed in a new study published in Nature Electronics, the technology can deliver 50 watts of power using magnetic fields.

“This really ups the power of the ubiquitous computing world—you could put a computer in anything without ever having to worry about charging or plugging in,” commented Alanson Sample, U-M professor of computer science and engineering and the study's co-author. “There are a lot of clinical applications as well."

Sample said that that in addition to untethering phones and laptops, the technology could also power implanted medical devices and open new possibilities for mobile robotics in homes and manufacturing facilities.

A team led by University of Tokyo researchers demonstrated the technology in a purpose-built aluminum test room measuring approximately 10 feet by 10 feet.

The room wirelessly powered lamps, fans and cell phones that could draw current from anywhere within the floorplan, regardless of placement of people and objects.

The system is billed as a gigantic improvement over previous attempts at wireless charging systems, which emitted potentially harmful microwave radiation and/or required devices to be placed on dedicated charging pads, the researchers said.

Instead, the developed system employs a conductive surface on room walls and uses a conductive pole to generate magnetic fields.

As further noted by Michigan News:

Devices harness the magnetic field with wire coils, which can be integrated into electronics like cell phones. The researchers say the system could easily be scaled up to larger structures like factories or warehouses while still meeting existing safety guidelines for exposure to electromagnetic fields.

Takuya Sasatani, a researcher at the University of Tokyo and the corresponding author on the study, explained, “Something like this would be easiest to implement in new construction, but I think retrofits will be possible as well. Some commercial buildings, for example, already have metal support poles, and it should be possible to spray a conductive surface onto walls, perhaps similar to how textured ceilings are done.”

The wireless charging room, photographed when under construction at The University of Tokyo. Image credit: University of Tokyo

So when can smart buildings stakeholders get in on this technological marvel?

In a blog interview regarding the pilot system, Tech Briefs editor Billy Hurley directly inquired of Sample, "What needs to happen before we can see a charging room in commercial and residential settings? Where do you see the first applications for this?"

"It is still early days for this type of wireless power system, and research needs to make it practical for consumer use," admitted Sample. "We envision the first application will be related to medical and or robotic applications."

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