Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cut the Cord

Have you ever seen a Van de Graaff Generator, Company? Sure you have. It's one of those things that you have seen like down at the local science museum, or maybe on TV or maybe on TV at school that has a cage and inside the cage there is a gigantic elevated ball. When the scientist or museum curator or other stuffy adult flips the switch you can feel and hear all sorts of electricity in the air and pretty soon it starts throwing bolts of lightning from the ball to the cage or vice versa. Yeah, those things are sweet, aren't they company? It's especially sweet when the person operating the machine sticks someone inside and lets the lightning flash all around them. It's also super cool when they put it in mini form and sell it at Hot Topic or one of those type stores as a little device that causes a stream of light to go from the center of the globe to wherever you are touching.
Anyway, as cool as all that stuff is the important point about the Van de Graaff Generator, at least for our purposes here today, is that it was developed in an attempt to move electricity wirelessly from place to place. So like, in lieu of a huge network of wires strung to and fro across the countryside, we could shoot electricity into your house or my apartment without the wire. Think about the ramifications of that, won't you please? Everything in which we use batteries we would be able to shoot electricity to. Imagine power shooting out to all of our electronic devices from like every cell phone tower. That would be neat if they could make it happen. But it's probably not going to, because I don't know if you've noticed, Company, but nature has been shooting electricity though the air since time immortal: it's called lightning and it hurts like a bitch when it hits you. Just ask Roy Sullivan.
So, as you have probably figured out, shooting electricity though the air probably isn't feasible. That being said, there are still a lot of people out there scheming how to free us from batteries, much like Van de Graaff was when he developed his generator. Some of those people work for Nokia, and they have been able to take an absolutely huge step towards achieving that goal. Recently they unveiled a phone that is able to recharge its own battery without a plug. Now that's pretty cool as far as I am concerned.
I was interested this new technology for use in the wireless fence collars I put on The Unpaid Interns. I spend an awfully large amount of money on batteries for those things and we here at Big Dave and Company loves to save us some money. Anyway, I was interested in this technology so I read up on it. What I found was pretty cool. What these phones do is to harvest the ambient radio waves that are always in the air around us and they turn those into usable energy. Not a whole lot of usable energy, but enough to recharge its own battery. How awesome is that?
This idea is similar to the ideas that Van de Graaff and Tesla (who developed the Tesla coil) were working with only on a much smaller and more modern scale. The cool thing about the Nokia technology is that it doesn't really care from where it gets its waves. It will pick up wasted TV, radio, cell phone, or whatever kind of waves it finds flinging around itself, and it will use them regardless of their power or their wavelength, to create a more traditional electrical current that will go to recharge the battery. So we aren't totally free of the battery, but we are free of the cord. That's gotta be good for something, right?
Right now, with this technology in its infancy, Nokia isn't able to get very much power from the ether. We are talking roughly 5 milliwatts, which is a tiny, tiny fraction of what the light bulb in my ceiling fan uses. They need about 10 times that much in order to do anything practical, but they are on their way. And while the 50 milliwatts for which they are shooting won't be enough to power your phone, for instance, while you are making a call, it will be enough to slowly recharge your battery while your phone is in standby mode, which it pretty much is when you aren't talking on it or texting someone or taking a picture or surfing the web. So it would work almost like the battery and alternator in your car: you'd draw the battery down and then it would recharge while you are not using it. I love it, and I can't think of something cooler than what the folks at Nokia are doing with this. It's just one step closer to cutting the cord.

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