Commercial Hurdles

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Commercial Hurdles

Posted on June 2007 in Articles

The advent of witricity certainly captures the attention, and the imagination, there is no doubt. But the invention (some would call it a re-invention) is only the first step towards a witric world and in itself brings up a number of issues that will need to be addressed before it is ready for public consumption. This article speculates on the hurdles that developers of the technology might face before we see the witric home or office become a reality.

Security: It will be a clever bod who works out how to encrypt electricity, but like any wireless technology, the product has to travel through air to reach it’s destination, and while it is between conductor and receptor, who’s to stop someone or something interfering or hijacking it? In the case of witricity, we know that it requires the two communicating devices to be operating at the same resonance, but as yet, we don’t know whether this can operate like radio, effectively utilising different frequencies, or whether there are optimal transmission rates.

It could be that all witric-enabled devices have to operate at a specific level of resonance to be 100% effective, and indeed this would offer a more practical solution in the home and office environment as different devices could be made compatible far more easily. But like Bluetooth, this could result in the shifting product to get lost or diverted either accidentally or maliciously.

So will we see encryption, or is it more likely that a pin number will be used between the outlet and the receiving witric device? Protection of the electric current over the air is a hurdle that will have to be addressed at some point one would imagine.

Health: It took all of a few hours following MIT’s announcement for people to raise the issue of health risks associated with witricity. The fact is, we are dealing with magnetic fields and it is widely preached that human organisms show little reaction to magnetic fields, so while it would seem the posibility of contracting cancer or other similar illnesses are highly unlikely, if not impossible, there will need to be a level of public awareness before these devices are accepted into everyday society.

Irrespective of that, just about every wireless technology that has come out in recent years has lead to reports of ill effects: mobile phones, wifi networks and even MP3 FM Transmitters all lead to varying comments about how they present a danger, be it from the press or public. Not without some small sense of irony, all these devices could become witric in time to come.

Distance: The question right now is, how much use can witricity be over 9 feet? Well actually, probably quite a lot (re Bluetooth again), but no doubt this will be a field that is heavily tested and developed with a view to improvement. Of course, the further the distance, the higher the potential security risk, but conversely it will be of great interest to product developers to try move away from Near Field from a practicality viewpoint.

Efficiency: Right now, MIT quote thier tests as showing 40% efficiency lighting a 60w lightbulb from 7 feet. Clearly that needs to improve and no doubt it will, but how long will that take and what will be the cost implications? How will that impact the end-user cost in the longer term and the size of the technology required? There is every chance we will see different levels of efficiency in early witric products based largely on device size, although one would expect that to change as witricity is refined over time.

Size Matters: MIT have already stated that they expect the technology to shrink - well that’s pretty obvious I guess, but it is still a hurdle that developers face to make it practical. Shrinking a product and improving efficiency at the same time isn’t always as easy as it sounds and could be one of the major delay factors in bringing witricity and more aptly, witric products, to market. 

Name & Ownership: At this early stage one also has to question whether we will even be talking about “witricity” in time to come. Once MIT sell the technology to a company for further commercial development, the question over whether the name sticks is open to debate. Personally, I’d say it’s more likely than unlikely for two reasons:

Firstly, the MIT-dubbed (vested interest?) term witricity speed propagated through the search engines incredibly fast (see Witricity and Google) indicating to me that it’s early adoption could be a strong point when it comes to commercialisation further down the line - it certainly seems to have been adopted readily and for the brand aware, mass-market viral marketing is about the best it gets! The longer they leave any renaming, the more likely it is “witricity” will stick.

Secondly it’s a name that prior to June 7th, wasn’t even on the map - at least as far as anyone is aware and that may make it easy to patent and/or trademark assuming that is a goal. Whether either have been filed for I have no idea, but what I can tell you is that, as at June 11th 2007, a search on the US Patent & Trademark Office website reveals no results for either “witricity” or “witric”. But of course, where there is an opportunity to make shedloads of dosh, one might expect one or two people to come out of the woodwork claiming the idea and subsequently rights in the name or in the technology, so who knows where that will lead.

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