When I think of Disney I think of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, Disney World, and Mickey Mouse. And I suppose, as it is 2017, The Avengers and Spider-Man and Star Wars. Add to that the fact that Disney also owns ESPN, and Touchstone Pictures, Pixar, and the Muppets, and you’ve got something magical and massive. Indeed, Disney has become something like The Force. It surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the universe together. It’s so thoroughly ingrained in our pop culture that we forget about some of its other departments, sub-departments and ongoing projects.
One of those departments which may not get as much attention is their Research Department. If you visit their website disneyresearch.com, you’ll be treated to a beautifully dense overload of research papers and articles all about the research department’s work in fields ranging from Animation Technology (understandably a whole lot is devoted to this subject), voice recognition technology, robotics, and much, much more.
While doing some research for this article I must admit I went down a long rabbit hole of tech news and projects being churned out by this group of people. I was in awe. Not just by their clear technical superiority over me, but also by the overwhelming flood of exciting breakthroughs and ideas and glimpses into the future of technology that were on display.
The article and area of research that I “geeked-out” about the most was all about wireless charging. Super exciting, right? I know! But, all joking aside, there is a featured write up there on the website all about Disney’s work in wireless, cordless technology.
A couple years back there was ample talk about the possibility of wirelessly charging things, most notably phones. Some attempts were made. A whole bunch of gadgets were sold. But the products never really lived up to much. The best thing we got was a little charging pad that we could set our phones on to let them charge. I think I speak for all of us when I say “Cute. But what’s the friggin’ point? So, I have to leave my phone there – JUST AS IF IT WERE PLUGGED INTO MY WALL – to charge my phone? Gee, thanks.” There was really no benefit to these features outside of an aesthetic one. Less cords and less kludge is nice, but not enough to justify this “innovation”
This is where Disney’s brilliant research team comes in. Scientists at Disney Research have come up with a solution – an entire room that can wirelessly charge 10 objects at a time, with no ports required. All you need to do is walk inside with your smartphone in your pocket, and it will start charging on its own.
Researchers built this free-standing room with aluminum panels covering the walls, floor and ceiling. In the center of it, a two-inch copper pipe runs vertically from floor to ceiling. Electric current runs down through the pipe, into the floor, up the walls, over the ceiling and back into the pipe, looping at 1.3 million times per second. That looping electricity creates a room-filling magnetic field that runs in a circular pattern perpendicular to the pole.
“Wireless power delivery has the potential to seamlessly power our electrical devices as easily as data is transmitted through the air,” the team explains.
“However, existing solutions are limited to near-contact distances. and do not provide the geometric freedom to enable automatic and unaided charging.”
Tests in the prototype living room have confirmed that it can safely deliver around 1,900 watts of energy, with an efficiency level of 40 to 95 percent, depending on where the object is.
That’s a decent amount of energy, and more than enough to charge your phone, lamps, fans, drones, and other small electronic devices.
Here’s a look at what this room is:
The catch is that a rather obtrusive and, let’s face it, ugly copper pipe in the middle of the room has to stay, and the walls need to be built with specialized aluminum panels running from the floor to the ceiling, in order to facilitate a constant supply of power. In the future the aluminum wall aspect may be handled with special conductive paint.
Safety-wise, there is almost no safety concern with this set up. The only caveat being that as of now it’s not a good idea to be within about 18 inches of the pipe. The team is now working on solutions to this concern with possibly a built-in sensor mechanism that will shut off the power through the pipe when it “feels” something in the space around the pole. Another possible solution is building in a barrier that goes around the outside of the pole which will block you from getting too close.
Based on the current limitations and all the work that needs to be implemented to make this system affordable and realistic for sale to the public, isn’t ready for the market just yet, but this is looking like a seriously cool way to solve our cords problem.
And imagine never having to leave the house with a half-charged phone because you forgot to plug it in for the thousandth time. Cue goosebumps.
In closing, if you are like me and have had long and exhausting bouts of self-serious internal conversations about the long-term solution to wireless phone charging, you can feel better and more secure about the future knowing there is a team of brilliant scientists who are hard at work making our dreams a reality. And to top off the overwhelming awesomeness of the whole thing, the company that is pushing this dream forward is the same one that made us all believe our toys have lives of their own, people could be brought back to life with a kiss, and that Star Wars could be relevant and excellent again. Hooray!
What’s a dream of a wireless world in comparison to the things they’ve already achieved?