How your wallpaper could power your PC

University of Oxford researchers say it should soon be possible to do away with the tangle of cables most of us are afflicted with, thanks to a new class of metamaterials.

The technology is based on the sort of induction charging seen in electric toothbrushes or some phones, but could be incorporated into everything from carpets to clothing. It also allows the transfer of data as well as power.

“You could have a truly active, cable-free, batteryless desktop that can power and link your laptop or PC, monitor, keyboard, mouse, phone and camer,” says Dr Chris Stephens from the Departmewnt of Engineering.

“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.”

The system arises from research into metamaterials, which act as magneto-inductive wave guides and magneto-inductive power surfaces.

“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,” says Stephens.

“The required bandwidth determines the design and the design limits the bandwidth. Right now we can achieve 3.5 Gigabits per second data transfer rate and hundreds of watts of power, but the circuits have the capacity for increased performance.”

Smart fabric is one application, 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 a carpet to power a lamp – and there’s no reason the technology couldn’t also power a stereo, TV, DVD and satellite box, through the carpet and wallpaper. Meanwhile an electric car in the driveway could be doing the same from a charging mat.

Devices can be completely encapsulated, making them waterproof and robust – very useful for the aerospace military, automotive and medical sectors.

“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,” says Stephens.

His team’s working with Isis Innovation, the University’s research commercialisation company, to bring the technology to market.