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Power from thin air

More than a century ago, a startup— funded by J. P. Morgan with technology from Nikola Tesla— envisioned a future where energy would be delivered over the air from power stations to consumers. That vision wasn’t realized, but now researchers have revived the vision on a nano scale.

The Economist reports on research by Josh Smith (UW CSE adjunct faculty and principal engineer at Intel Labs Seattle) with collaborators Scott Southwood (UW CSE undergrad) and Alanson Sample (a researcher at UW Electrical Engineering and at Intel Research Seattle) demonstrating practical application of Tesla’s idea. The researchers have successfully powered a simple weather station using power harvested from “ambient energy” such as that harvested from a television broadcast tower several miles away.

“There is something magical about it,” says Smith, but the science is sound.

Other researchers are already looking at commercial applications of power-harvesting technologies, such as using WIFI signals to charge cellphones.

Read the story at The Economist here. Or view the ten-minute video. An interview with UW researchers starts at about the five-minute point.

Update: The New York Times also reports on Smith’s work in the Novelties column,
Bye-Bye Batteries: Radio Waves as a Low-Power Source, on 16 July 2010.

June 18, 2010