Electricity From Air

Business 2.0 has a story about Powercast, a company that has developed the technology to broadcast electricity from a power source to a small receiver.

A transmitter plugs into the wall, and a dime-size receiver (the real Powercastinnovation, costing about $5 to make) can be embedded into any low-voltage device. The receiver turns radio waves into DC electricity, recharging the device’s battery at a distance of up to 3 feet.

Picture your cell phone charging up the second you sit down at your desk, and you start to get a sense of the opportunity. How big can it get? “The sky’s the limit,” says John Shearer, Powercast’s founder and CEO. He estimates shipping “many millions of units” by the end of 2008.

The article implies that there is some excitement about this technology and it’s easy to see why.  Interest in this technology also illustrates a prime principle – humans progress from less freedom to more freedom.  This is true whether in society, government, or products.  The line of progression is never straight, of course, but if you develop a product that gives consumers more freedom where there is currently less, chances are you have a winner.

It’s interesting to consider two industries struggling with this principle right now – cable and newspapers.  Cable is the ultimate tether, and it would seem that sattelite would deal it a knockout blow.  This hasn’t happened, however, and there are some technological, cost, and business issues holding back adoption.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine we’ll stay cable-happy as we continue to suffer from those maddening tether related service interruptions that seem to occur for no reason.

Newspapers, on the other hand, actually provide more freedom than on screen delivery of the news, yet paper is dying while screen is growing.  This fact had helped blind some newspaper executives to the online threat, thinking that people will never choose to get their news on a screen over  paper.  You won’t carry a computer onto the train.  They missed, of course, all of the other superior qualities of online news delivery that makes it more desirable than paper.  Digital news delivery, however, is becoming more mobile and news organizations must be able to follow that move if  they want to succeed.

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