Tag Archives | MIT

Sony Prototype Powers TV Wirelessly

AC ScreamDuring the 1890’s, inventor Nikola Tesla toyed with the possibility of transferring electricity (safely) through the air. Tesla’s vision has become reality in laboratories within the past decade, and today, the IDG News Service is reporting that Sony has devised a wireless prototype to power its television sets.

The technology, called magnetic resonance, achieves power transfer by feeding energy from a power supply into a coil of wires to produce a magnetic field. A current is transferred when a secondary cool falls within that field. Sony used the technique to send 100 volts of electricity 50 centimeters to “plug in” a wireless 22-inch television set.

Other metallic devices that fall within the field will not become significantly electrified, according to the company. The range can be extended to 80 cm with passive relay units, according to IDG.

Sony’s power system is hardly unique. In 2007, a team of MIT researchers was able to power a light bulb from as far as 7 feet away by using magnetic resonance. But there was considerable energy loss with only 40 percent efficiency.

The research was spun off into company called WiTricity, and it is planning a commercial rollout of the technology – once it is refined. If Sony’s experiment is any indication, those refinements could take awhile.

Sony is also tackling the efficiency issue. While its prototype was 80 percent efficient, additional energy loss occurred after the transmission was made to the secondary coil. One quarter of the original 80 watts was lost.

With further improvements, the energy loss could become more acceptable, but I don’t believe in wasting electricity (and potentially increasing carbon emissions) for aesthetics. If the technology could be used to eliminate the need for toxic batteries to power portable devices, Sony could be onto something. For now, though, a power cord does the job just fine for televisions.

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The Future–August 1999 Style!

Future of technologyWay back in August of 1999–hey, that was a decade ago, in a different century!–I was lucky enough to visit MIT’s Media Lab along with fellow members of the American Society of Business Press Editors. We got a bunch of demos of technology that was, literally, still in the lab. I remember the tour vividly, but had forgotten that I’d written it up for the ASBPE newsletter. But the ASBPE rediscovered my old story and has posted it on their blog.

How much of  the vision we saw in 1999 has become everyday reality? Quite a bit, actually. Let’s review.

1999: “The Lab is developing an inexpensive, flexible material that looks and acts like paper, but can display information that can be changed electronically, without the use of consumable materials. Its inventors believe that this medium could eventually be used to produce a computer for about $10.” The ten-buck computer still isn’t here yet, but E-Ink’s electronic paper–based on MIT’s research–is one of the things that makes a Kindle a Kindle.

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MIT Announces Chip Material Breakthrough

Last week, researchers at MIT announced that they used a new material called graphene to design microchips that provide significantly higher data transfers rates than traditional silicon chips. Graphene chip processing techniques currently being used in the laboratory will scale to mass production of compact,  powerful communication devices within a little as one to two years, MIT says.

The MIT researchers used graphene to produce a chip that doubled the frequency of an electromagnetic signal produced by today’s technology. The chip also produced less “noise”–interference that requires filtering by supplementary chips–than its silicon counterparts, enabling more miniaturization and less power consumption in devices such as cell phones.

“In electronics, we’re always trying to increase the frequency,” in order to make “faster and faster computers” and cellphones that can send data at higher rates, said Tomás Palacios, assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a core member of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories in a prepared statement. “It’s very difficult to generate high frequencies above 4 or 5 gigahertz,” but graphene technology could lead to practical systems in the 500 to 1,000 gigahertz range, he added.

While other laboratories have been experimenting with graphene, MIT says that its work followed standard chip processing methods, and would reduce the time needed to develop a commercial product. The project has attracted the interest of “many other offices in the federal government and major chip-making companies,” Palacios said.

MIT may be jockeying for funding, but it sounds as if it has achieved a genuine breakthrough in taking a relatively new material from being the plaything of researchers to something that may show up in real products reasonably soon. With silicon chips approaching their physical limits, the announcement is promising news.

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Lithium Battery Breakthrough Cuts Charge Time Down to Seconds

Energizer BunnyImagine that you could charge a car battery as quickly as you fill up a tank of gasoline today. Stop imagining –it has become possible. Researchers have developed a new lithium battery technology that can charge and discharge in a matter of seconds.

The journal Nature is reporting that Byoungwoo Kang and Gerbrand Ceder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a glass-like Lithium mixture for electrodes that allows a charge to be rapidly stored inside of a battery. The battery is designed so that lithium ions move more freely, moving the charge in and out of storage from cathode to electrolyte. The material also retains its capacity through charge cycles.

However, don’t expect laboratory performance at home just yet. Ars Technica has noted that the battery are not entirely compatible with today’s electric grid. For example, a cell phone battery would drawn 360W in ten seconds– for a single charge. Cue the blown circuit breakers.

I’m certain that some happy medium will be reached, and we can all look forward to more advanced batteries in our electronics. This breakthrough eliminates many of the restrictions that today’s batteries place on device manufacturers, and will should lead to more powerful mobile hardware and a greater variety of devices. It’s a big win for consumers and the industry alike.