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The proposed charging station would be a wall-mounted panel, able to charge devices up to 10 meters away. Photo: Duke University.
The proposed charging station would be a wall-mounted panel, able to charge devices up to 10 meters away. Photo: Duke University.

Imagine the living room of the future — AI-controlled heating and cooling systems, VR gear strewn across the floor, and best of all a flat, TV-like wireless charging station that makes dead batteries and power cords a relic of times gone by.

Scientists from the University of Washington, Intellectual Ventures’ Invention Science Fund, and Duke University report in a recent study that we already have the tech required to make this wireless charging station a reality — someone just needs to put it all together.

“Our proposed system would be able to automatically and continuously charge any device anywhere within a room, making dead batteries a thing of the past,” says David Smith, the study’s lead author and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke, in a news release.

The biggest problem with today’s wireless chargers is their range. According to the paper, most wireless chargers use magnetic fields, which requires a battery to be very close by to be charged properly.

Other models use the Fresnel zone, a region of an electromagnetic field that can be focused into a beam, rather like frying an ant with a magnifying glass. But in this case the ant is a smartphone, and the beam charges its battery.

David Smith, Duke University.
David Smith, Duke University.

The problem with using this approach is that the beam of energy must be trained on an item to charge it, and as the release notes, “nobody wants a big, moving satellite dish on their mantel.” Another option is to send out many smaller beams, but this would take an unreasonable amount of energy.

That’s where Invention Science Fund’s science can help. The lab has been working for years with metamaterials — materials created from engineered cells which can be manipulated to have qualities not found in nature. Intellectual Ventures has previously spun out several startups working in this area, including KymetaEvolv, Echodyne and Pivotal.

The proposed charging station could use metamaterials to train energy beams on areas as small as the size of a cell phone across distances of up to 10 meters, or about 30 feet. The device would be about the size of a typical flat screen TV.

“I think building a system like this, which could be embedded in the ceiling and wirelessly charge everything in a room, is a very feasible scheme,” Smith said.

Intellectual Ventures founder Nathan Myhrvold spoke with GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and Alan Boyle about metamaterials and their applications at this year’s GeekWire Summit. Check out the video below.

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