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Invisible Lasers Power Things Wirelessly, May Start Fires In Your Pants

Invisible Lasers Power Things Wirelessly, May Start Fires In Your Pants


By Evan Ackerman

At CES this year, we saw several different stabs at wireless power. Most of them involved either direct contact, or minuscule amounts of electricity. At ETech last week, we saw a demo from a company called PowerBeam, which has a wireless power solution that promises to tackle both of those shortcomings. It’s exciting enough to start a fire in your pants. Unfortunately, the fire that PowerBeam starts in your pants may not just be the OMG wireless power!!11! type of fire. No, PowerBeam may start an actual fire. More, after the jump.

The pay PowerBeam works is exactly like it sounds: with a beam of power. And beam of power = laser. Infrared (invisible) lasers, in this case. Pretty high powered lasers, too, with between 1 and 5 watts continuous output. By way of comparison, the Dragon Laser that I used to pop balloons and burn stuff was about a quarter of a watt. The PowerBeam lasers are spread out a bit so that their power densities top out at around 10mW/mm2, but it’s all heat energy, so if you put your hand in front of the beam, it feels kind of like putting your hand over a hot cup of coffee.


Thoughtfully, the production PowerBeam modules will include an additional low-power NIR laser that acts as a safety (this was apparently not in place with the demo version I saw). If something (like your pants) enters the path of the beam, the NIR laser will be tripped, and the beam will instantly shut off. This could get mildly annoying (to say the least) if you’ve got (say) wirelessly powered speakers strewn around the room and you have the temerity to get up and walk around. So, PowerBeam electronics will include batteries that take over while the laser is blocked.

So what’s the moral of the story? PowerBeam only works line of sight, it’s going to be difficult to integrate into portable gadgets, and if the safety breaks down it could flash-roast your dog. But, I’d say that based on the other technologies I’ve seen, PowerBeam has the most realistic chance of showing up in your house as a way to get substantial amounts of power over a substantial distance without cords.

[ PowerBeam ]