Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

Cutting the Cord


We field a lot of questions on where technology is going. Some of the questions directly relate to global transportation management or logistics. Others relate to technologies that will change the way we live and work. This update is one of those.  Ever heard of resonant energy transfer?  Probably not… but soon we may all reap the benefits of this technology.  Give this a quick read and share your thoughts with us. 

The story begins with interrupted sleep — something I’m sure you are all seeking to avoid. It was certainly the case with Marin Soljacic.  Soljacic was woken up three nights in a row by the low power alarm on his wife’s cell phone. Most people would complain and go back to sleep, but not Soljacic, who happens to be a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He got to thinking about the possibility of recharging that bothersome mobile remotely. Abundant electrical power is always pulsing through wires in the wall; why not tap into it without the need for a physical connection?

An MIT team led by Soljacic set to work on the problem in 2005. Two years later they had cracked it, and Soljacic helped to found a company called WiTricity Corp. to commercialize the technology.

Here’s the layman’s version of how it works. Send electricity through a coil and it resonates and creates a magnetic field. Place a second coil that resonates with the same frequency near to the first one, and magnetic energy is transferred between the two. Convert the magnetism in the second coil back to electricity. WiTricity CEO, Eric Giler, uses the analogy of an opera singer who shatters a glass several feet away with the resonating power of his or her voice to explain the concept.

The phenomenon is called resonant energy transfer, and it’s not new. But Soljacic’s team developed a way to make the transfer work even if the coils are four to six feet apart.

Enough of the physics; what does this mean for us mortals? Well, you will be able to leave your cell phone on a counter top to recharge wirelessly. Your PC will draw energy from the wall without the need for dust-gathering cords. That space-age robotic vacuum cleaner you bought simply shuffles near to a wall to load up with juice. And your new electric hybrid car recharges automatically when left in the garage courtesy of a mat on the floor that is plugged into the power supply. All of these scenarios are already possible.

The New York Times reported recently[i] that the technology should appear this year. Consumer electronics manufacturers will embed the coils in their products. WiTricity has signed agreements with a Taiwanese semiconductor company to develop wireless charging systems for mobile handsets, tablet computers, game controllers and other devices, according to the Times.

Get ready to cut the cord. Get ready to live and work in a new way. The possibilities are endless.


[i] Automatic Recharging, From a Distance, The New York Times, March 10, 2012

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