Did Regulation Delay Wireless Charging?

Monday, August 19, 2013

If you'd like to start your week with something inspirational, by all means go to this New York Times story about inventor-entrepreneur Meredith Perry. Here, she describes her "eureka moment", at the end of a long day of research on her laptop:

"I was just standing in my room," she said, "wrapping up my laptop charger and trying to fit it into my bag and suddenly it occurred to me: Wow, this is so archaic. Why are we using these 20-foot wires to plug in our quote-unquote wireless devices?"
The story describes the many obstacles she faced along the road from this moment to running her own company, including "constricted thinking" on the part of specialists she consulted with and a general lack of interest on the part investors -- but the following stood out to me:
As Ms. Perry soon learned, there are very good reasons that we don't beam electricity through the air. Though you can transmit the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays, there are problems. "I realized that anything on the right half of the spectrum was too dangerous to beam," she said, "and anything on the left half of the spectrum that was closer to radio was either too inefficient or tightly regulated by the government." [bold added]
If memory serves me, I recall seeing something to the effect that a student in Pennsylvania had come up with a way to charge electronics wirelessly some time before I encountered this article. This sounded too good to be true to me, in part because I figured that if it were possible, someone would have already solved the problem by now.

Maybe further investigation of the artificially off-limits parts of the EM spectrum would have resulted in an impasse, and sound would have proved to be the solution. I have no idea. Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder whether a couple of unforeseen consequences of government regulation here have been that (1) we've all been having to waste time fiddling with chargers long past a time when wireless power transmission at home might have been realized, and (2) Perry's considerable drive and hard work are being diverted from other challenges.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

It would not surprise me if government regulation was part of the problem, however I suspect that at some point the laws of physics will add their two cents worth and we'll reach a practical limit to the amount of power which can be safely moved, either by sound waves or other means. Transferring information takes a lot less energy than transferring electrical power.
I find it interesting that Ms. Perry took on the whole project creating the invention and selling it, herself and how she specifically sought out those she thought might be more positive. This sort of thing requires not only upfront innovation but also downstream persistence. This, I would guess is one of the reasons that many inventors of the industrial revolution paired with a partner whose job was to sell their product (e.g. James Watt). It seems that characteristic innovation and persistence (or perhaps salesmanship) is not often present in a single person. Or maybe inventors don’t often like dealing with humans who can tend to act irrationally at times. I wonder how many great inventions have been lost in the past by fed-up inventors who gave up after the first twenty or so attempts. An analogy from the novel business might be Stephen King who is in my opinion one of best, if not the best, novelist today; yet he endured dozens of rejections before he gave up. His wife rescued his latest manuscript from the trash, rewrote his query letter and sent it another agent who accepted it.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes. I was also impressed by the combination of traits this inventor exhibited. Your example of Stephen King makes this combination more impressive by contrast, and also provides a moral to anyone who might not have the persistence or business acumen Ms. Perry does.