New metamaterials technology offers a cable-free lifestyle

Dr Chris Stevens and his research team from Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science have developed a new technology that allows devices such as mobile phones and cameras to both charge and transmit data without cables. Current applications target smaller, low power devices. However, employed on a larger scale, this technology might eliminate the need for power and data cables altogether. Isis Innovation Ltd, the University of Oxford’s research commercialisation company, is working with Dr Chris Stevens to bring the technology to market.

Dr Stevens 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. For example, by incorporating the technology behind the screen of a computer monitor, digital files, photos and music could be transferred effortlessly to and from a USB stick simply by tapping the flash drive against an on-screen icon”.

This work comes from research into metamaterials, that is, materials that act as magneto-inductive wave guides and magneto-inductive power surfaces. You can find simple inductive technology in the charging unit of an electric toothbrush but in this case we can transfer data as well, and over a distance”.

The real beauty is that since the technology is in a patterned conductive layer, we can start adding that layer to any surface or indeed into a fabric”.

Cable-free metamaterial

Smart clothing will be a possibility, allowing for efficient body area networking, such as linking up headphones, mobiles, cameras and music devices through clothing. The team has already incorporated the cable-free technology into carpet to power a lamp. The living room of the future could have the stereo, TV, DVD and satellite box powered and linked through the carpet and wallpaper. Meanwhile an electric car in the driveway can be doing the same from a charging mat. The syncing and recharging of mobile devices can take place effortlessly, even in public spaces such as cafés or cinemas.

Devices can be completely encapsulated, making them waterproof and robust. This makes metamaterials attractive for service in the aerospace, military, automotive and medical sectors.

Dr Stevens added: “We can have smart medical sensors in the form of a sticking plaster that can act as a diagnostic tool as well as powering something like an implanted insulin pump.

The long term goal for Dr Stevens is to fundamentally change the way the electronics industry views recycling of components: “Right now we have a new generation of devices coming out every 6-12 months. These devices are soldered or wired together so are difficult to recycle. If you do away with wires and connect your components by sticking them onto a sealed circuit board, taking them apart becomes easy. No desoldering, no heat treatments, no toxic chemicals, no damage to the 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. Eventually those same processors can end up in TVs and washing machines – dramatically increasing the lifecycle of electronics”.

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