OPINION

We throw away a of single-use batteries in a year, could WI-FI be the solution to minimising the problem?

Over a century after Nikola Tesla came up with the idea, we are using wireless electricity.

Over a century after Nikola Tesla came up with the idea, we are using wireless electricity.

On March 20, 1900, US patent 645,576 "system of transmission of electrical energy", was granted in the name of Nikola Tesla.

At the height of his career, Nikola Tesla became somewhat obsessed with the idea that electricity could be transmitted wirelessly through the air at long distances.

Imagine the idea of a wireless light bulb, for example. Sit a light bulb on a table and it would magically light up.

At the time, a significant amount of work was being performed on alternating current (AC) transformers where electricity was indeed transmitted through the air between two coils. These coils were in close proximity to each other and designed to work as a pair but regardless, it was transmitting electricity wirelessly.

Tesla's idea of wireless electricity at long distance never eventuated. Not necessarily because the theory was incorrect, but because the power dissipated when electricity is transmitted through the air would have required incredibly high levels of electricity to begin with.

Over a century later we use wireless electricity in everyday lives - albeit at short distances.

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Most modern mobile phones have the ability to charge wirelessly by placing them on a wireless charger; I cook my eggs on an induction stove top each morning and even roadways are being built that allow electric vehicles to charge wirelessly as they drive along the road.

With all of our modern advances, is there any merit in Tesla's original idea of wireless electricity?

Samsung has released a new range of televisions and with them they have new remote controls. Samsung would like the headlines to be about the televisions, but I am more interested in their remotes.

These remotes have no batteries and no need to plug them in to charge them.

You read that correctly. I am not still drunk from new-year celebrations.

No batteries and no requirement to charge! Even Dr Strange would be happy with that magic.

There needs to be some way for the remote to receive power. Samsung are relying on the fact that most households have Wi-Fi. When Wi-Fi signals are transmitted, they contain a certain amount of energy.

Not much, but a cleverly designed circuit can use a receiving antenna to capture some of that power and run it through a rectifier circuit to create a small amount of energy. Not enough to run a TV ... but enough to run a TV remote.

It is exactly this concept that Samsung is using. Samsung also wants to reduce the number of small batteries that end up in landfill. Americans throw away more than 86,000 tons of single-use alkaline batteries (AAA, AA, C and D) each year.

This remote control has no batteries and instead uses a capacitor for short-term storage of power. Unlike batteries that store power chemically, capacitors do it physically in a form similar to static electricity. So now we have a remote control that is using the Wi-Fi that is basically ubiquitous.

That sounds like a good first step, but what next? Regular readers of my column will be familiar with the explosion in the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

One of the big challenges for IoT manufacturers is how to provide power to the billions of IoT devices to allow them to communicate with the outside world.

Well ... Tesla's idea might finally bear some fruit. With the very low power requirements and the set and forget nature of IoT, keep an eye out for developments in this space.

If too much tech is not enough, check out 'Tech Talk with Mathew Dickerson', a weekly podcast with tech news from across the world.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and host of the Tech Talk podcast.
This story Could the magic of Wi-Fi replace a need for batteries? first appeared on The Canberra Times.