New Zealand To Test Wireless Power Transmission

Nikola Tesla wanted to beam power without wires. NASA talked about building power-generating satellites that would do the same thing. But now New Zealand’s second-largest power utility — Powerco — is working with a start-up company to beam energy to remote locations. There have been several news releases, but possibly the most technical detail is from an interview [Loz Blain] did with the founder of the startup company.

It isn’t really news that you can send radio waves somewhere and convert the signal back into power. Every antenna does that routinely. The question is how efficient is the power transmission and — when the power levels are high — how safe is it? According to [Greg Kushnir], the founder of Emrod, the technology is about 70% efficient and uses ISM frequencies.

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Tesla Coil Electric Bike Is Wireless

Electric bikes, and really all electric vehicles, have one major downside: the weight and cost of batteries. Even with lithium, battery packs for ebikes can easily weigh more than the bike itself and cost almost as much. But having to deal with this shortcoming could be a thing of the past thanks to [LightningOnDemand]’s recent creation. Of course, this would rely on a vast infrastructure of Tesla coils since that’s how this bike receives the power it needs to run its electric motor.

The Tesla coil used for the demonstration is no slouch, either. It’s part of the Nevada Lightning Laboratory and can pack a serious punch (PDF warning). To receive the electrical energy from the coil, the bike (actually a tricycle) uses a metal “umbrella” of sorts which then sends the energy to the electric motor. The bike drags a chain behind itself in order to have a ground point for the electricity to complete its circuit. There is limited range, though, and the Tesla coil will start ionizing paths to the ground if the bike travels too far away.

While we can’t realistically expect Tesla’s idea of worldwide, free, wireless electricity to power our bicycles anytime soon, it is interesting to see his work proven out, even if its on a small scale like this. Of course, it doesn’t take a research laboratory to start working with Tesla coils. This one is built out of common household parts and still gets the voltages required to create the signature effects of a Tesla coil.

Thanks to [Adam] for the tip!

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High Voltage Experiment Pipes Power With Water

The idea of transferring energy with water isn’t exactly new. In fact, it’s downright ancient. Running water has been tapped to power our contrivances since folks were getting excited about that new library they were opening up over in Alexandria. But what if there was a way to deliver power with water that wasn’t kinetic, and instead relied on the electrical properties of the planet’s favorite libation?

That’s exactly what [Jay Bowles] set out to explore with his latest experiment. Since water (we know, not pure water) conducts electricity, it stands to reason that it could be used as a stand-in for traditional copper wiring. Why would you want to do such a thing? Because unlike wires, water can easily morph into whatever shape may be required, and can be moved around and controlled with nothing more complex than ball valves.

To test this concept, [Jay] put together a water distribution system out of simple acrylic tubing. A reservoir was attached to one of his high voltage generators, and copper caps were placed at the end of the tubes to serve as direct attachment points for devices.

But thanks to capacitive coupling, the fluorescent lights he uses don’t actually need to be physically connected to light up. As demonstrated in the video after the break, the lights surrounding the system can be independently controlled just by turning their respective valves on and off; all without any physical contact being made.

Of course, compared to traditional wiring there are plenty of downsides to this idea. Copper wires don’t tend to freeze in the winter and spring a leak, nor do they build up bubbles of explosive hydrogen gas. So it’s safe to say the wiring in your house probably won’t ever be replaced with a tube of charged water. But [Jay] does have some interesting ideas of how this technique could be used in non-traditional ways. For example, he describes how outdoor lighting could be powered by the energy radiating from a small stream.

Even if the practical applications of this technique are somewhat limited, there’s no question that it’s a fascinating idea. Believing that he’s the first person to ever demonstrate power transmission under these specific circumstances, he’s decided to call the concept “Bowles Transmission”. We’d love to see somebody use this principle in one of their projects, and we’re willing to bet so would [Jay].

As with his recent ozone sterilization experiments, we imagine this idea is going to be met with some debate. But that’s sort of the point. [Jay] doesn’t claim to have all the answers, and hopes these videos get people thinking and talking. As they say, nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

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Texas Tesla Tower Titillates

One of the nice things about a road trip is you often get to see something that really surprises you. A recent trip through Texas may have resulted in my second most surprising sighting. There’s a strange tower that looks oddly like a Tesla tower in the middle of rural Texas, right off the main interstate. What is it? Although Google did answer the question — sort of — I’m still not sure how legitimate its stated purpose is.

First Sighting

I was driving between Wimberly and Frisco — two towns that aren’t exactly household names outside of Texas. Near Milford, there’s a very tall structure that looks like a giant mechanical mushroom on top of a grain silo. If the mushroom were inverted or pointing towards the horizon, it would be easy to imagine it was some very odd antenna. This dish, however, is pointed right down its own odd-shaped mast. The top of the thing sure looks like the top of a Van de Graf generator.

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Drone Flies 12 Cm On Wireless Power

[Sam M] wrote in with a quick proof-of-concept demo that blows our socks off: transferring enough power wirelessly to make a small quadcopter take flight. Wireless power transfer over any real distance still seems like magic to us. Check out the videos embedded below and you’ll see what we mean.

What’s noteworthy about this demo is that neither the transmitter nor the receiver are particularly difficult to make. The transmitting loop is etched into a PCB, and the receiver is made of copper foil tape. Going to a higher frequency facilitates this; [Sam M] is using 13.56 MHz instead of the kilohertz that most power-transfer projects use. This means that all the parts can be smaller and lighter, which is obviously important on a miniature quadrotor.

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Power Over WiFi Might Not Be A Unicorn After All

There have been a few reports of power over WiFi (PoWiFi) on the intertubes lately. If this is a real thing it’s definitely going to blow all of the IoT fanboys skirts up (sorry to the rest of you *buzzword* fanboys, the IoT kids flash-mobbed the scene and they mean business).

All of the recent information we found points to an article by [Popular Science] titled “Best of What’s New 2015”. The brief write up includes a short summary lacking technical info, and fair play to [PopSci] as it’s a “Best Of” list for which they hadn’t advertised as an in-depth investigation.

However, we tend to live by the “If you’re gonna get wet, you might as well swim.” mentality, so we decided to get a little more information on the subject. After a bit of digging around we came across the actual article on [Cornell University]’s e-print archive where you can download the PDF that was published.

USB energy harvesting dongle.
USB energy harvesting dongle.

The paper goes into detailed explanation of the power harvesting theory including a schematic of the receiving end hardware. They had to create a constant transmission for the harvester to get over its minimum required voltage of operation. This was done with one of the wireless router’s unused channels to fill the voids of packet-less silence between normal WiFi communication.

As you can imagine PoWiFi is currently limited to powering/charging very low power devices that are used intermittently. The research team was able to charge a Jawbone headset at a rate of 2.3mA for 2.5 hours which resulted in the battery going from 0-41%. The punchline here is the distance, the device being charged was only 5-7cm from the PoWiFi router which is getting close to inductive charging range. The researchers stated in the paper that they were looking into integrating the harvesting circuitry and antenna into the headset while working towards a larger charging distance.

At the time of writing this article it seems that PoWiFi is best suited for devices such as: low powered sensors and motion activated cameras that have increased energy storage capacity, which the team mentioned as one of the continued research possibilities.

We’ve covered numerous wireless power projects before, some legit and some we still get a kick out of. Where do you think this one falls on that spectrum? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks to [ScottVR] for the tip.

Ultrasonic Power Transfer: UBeam’s Curious Engineering

The future is wireless power, or so say a thousand press releases in my spam folder, and with very few exceptions every single system of wireless power delivery has fallen flat on its face. Except for a few niche cases – RFID tags, Wacom tablets and the S Pen, and the Qi inductive power mats for cell phones – the future of wireless power hardly looks bright, and in some cases seems downright dangerous. No one seems to grasp that wireless power transfer is much more inefficient than using a wire, and the inverse square law only makes everything worse.

Now there’s a new wireless power technology that’s a strange mix of running in stealth mode and sending press releases to every tech outlet on the planet. It’s called uBeam. This company says it will deliver wireless power to the world, but it’s not doing it with giant Tesla-inspired towers of power, radios beamed directly at devices, induction, magnetic resonance, or even light. uBeam transmits power via sound, specifically high intensity ultrasound. uBeam has never demonstrated a prototype, has never released any technical specs, and even some high-profile investors that include [Mark Cuban] have not seen the uBeam working. Despite running in a ‘stealth mode’, it has garnered a lot of press, and has been featured on TechCrunch dozens of times. This may just be a consequence of CrunchFunds’s investment in uBeam, but there’s still more Google News results for a technology that hasn’t even been demonstrated than a reasonable person would expect.

In what is perhaps the greatest breakdown ever posted on the EEVForums, [georgesmith] goes over what uBeam is, how the technology doesn’t make sense, and how far you can take a business before engineers start to say, ‘put up or shut up.’ [georgesmith]’s research goes over just some of what makes uBeam impractical, but digging even further reveals how insane uBeam actually is.

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