Metamaterial tech threatens the end for power cables

Oxford University research into metamaterials could help the public do away with the masses of wires that connect computing devices.

Isis Innovation, the research commercialisation arm of the university, has come up with new technology that allows devices to both charge up batteries and transit data without the need for any cables.

It is already possible to charge devices using inductive charging, with devices from electric toothbrushes, but the team have struck on a new way to deliver power and data.

Using engineered metamaterials, the team says it is possible to connect devices with a patterned conductive layer that can be added to pretty much any surface. This means it is possible to use a carpet to provide power to a lamp, for example, and the same should apply to all manner of devices.  

Dr Chris Stevens, one of the researchers, said: “You could have a truly active, cable-free, batteryless desktop that can power and link your laptop or PC, monitor, keyboard, mouse, phone and camera.” 

This could mean putting the technology behind a computer monitor’s screen to transfer digital files to and from a USB stick “simply by tapping the flash drive against an on-screen icon”, with touted transfer speeds of 3.5 gigabits per second.

In the future it could be possible to have your stereo, TV, DVD and satellite box all powered through the carpet and wallpaper. An electric car could also be charged via a mat, for instance.

By doing away with power cables components could be easier to recycle. As it stands, devices are soldered or wired together and so are difficult to recycle. Stevens claimed that by getting rid of wires and connecting components by putting them on a sealed circuit board it will be a lot easier to take them apart without desoldering or using heat treatments which could potentially damage components.

“High spec computers can be sent back to the manufacturer when the next model comes out and the processors can be reused for lower spec home computers,” he said.  “Eventually those same processors can end up in TVs and washing machines – dramatically increasing the lifecycle of electronics”