Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sixty Months

I wonder what implications this article from the February issue of Fast Company has for the future in our classrooms?
After more than 100 years of dashed hopes, several companies are coming to market with technologies that can safely transmit power through the air – a breakthrough that portends the literal and figurative untethering of our electronic age.
The article describes three main variations of this technology. The first, inductive coupling, was scheduled to make it to market this month. Basically, it’s a charging pad, and you drop any device (that has the right electronics to utilize it) on it and it will recharge.
No more tangle of power cables or jumble of charging stations . . . And the pads are smart: Their built-in coils are driven by integrated circuits, which know if the device sitting on them is authorized to receive power, or it needs power at all. So you won’t charge your car keys. Or overcharge your flashlight.
It’s initially being made available to police, fire-and-rescue, and contractor fleets, and is also being integrated into a truck console (think a box connected to the electrical system of the truck, and contractors drop all their rechargeable devices into it while driving from place to place.)

The second variation is radio-frequency harvesting, which works across distances of up to 85 feet, and is also supposed to be available this month.
In this system, electricity is transformed into radio waves, which are transmitted across a room, then received by so-called power harvesters and translated back into low-voltage direct current . . . down the road, it will appear in wireless boxes into which you can toss any and all of your electronics for recharging.
But it’s the third variation which is the most tantalizing: magnetically coupled resonance (dubbed “WiTricity” by its MIT inventor). This one is supposed to be available in 12 to 18 months.
Like acoustical resonance, which allows an opera singer to break a glass across the room by vibrating it with the correct frequency of her voice's sound waves, magnetic resonance can launch an energetic response in something far away. In this case, the response is the flow of electricity out of the receiving coil and into the device to which it's connected . . . Importantly, then, WiTricity doesn't depend on line-of-sight. A powered coil in your basement could power the rest of the house, wirelessly.
The rest of the house – or your classroom.

Say you’re a classroom teacher. (Altogether now, “I’m a classroom teacher.” Thanks.) And let’s assume for a moment that you’re not in a 1:1 environment, and that you’ve been assuming that it’s going to be quite a while before your students each have their own computing device that works reliably and effectively in your classroom.

But then you notice that netbook computers are getting pretty darn good at a price point of around $300 to $400. And then you read this article and realize that in the next five years (conceivably), that the price of that very capable netbook could easily drop to perhaps $150 (or the iPhone could evolve into the netbook space at that same price point), and either of those might include the necessary technology to receive “WiTricity” right in your classroom, so no more worries about batteries going dead.

So, if you’re that classroom teacher (or principal, or central office administrator), and you’ve got sixty months until that’s a reality: what should you be doing right now to get yourself – and your students – ready for that very-near-future? You’ve got sixty months – shouldn’t you be getting started?


  1. Karl -- I really think we have 1/2 that amount of time (or less!) until the things you've been saying are all true. is already selling refurbished netbooks with webcam, windows, etc. for $149-169 from time to time.

  2. You wrote: “But then you notice that netbook computers are getting pretty darn good at a price point of around $300 to $400...” I say, Cheap hardware, bah! The PC has been the ruin of education. (Sorry if I sound opinionated — I teach Mass Comm and work with two platforms and four different model computers with three or four different OS.) No, cheap computers are not the answer. Educators need a reliable platform with integrated software, like the late great eMac. This is simply more evidence that modern education requires a financial commitment from the public, not pretend computers:

  3. @mrpullen - I think that netbooks themselves may get there sooner, but not netbooks with the appropriate coil to receive the WiTricity, nor the broadcast coils for our classrooms. If it's really 12-24 months until it hits the market, that gives us another 36-48 to hit price points schools can perhaps afford.

  4. @Jeff Shear - Well, while I agree with the financial commitment part, I disagree with the rest. Our netbooks (so far) have been more reliable then our full-blown Dell laptops. Our resources in the "cloud" have been just as reliable as our local server. And there are very few things we can do with a full-blown desktop or laptop computer that we can't do with the desktop (high-end CAD, high-end video editing, high-end Photoshop-type work, but that's about it - and, frankly, very few of our students do those things).

    While I liked the eMac, and I certainly like current offerings from Dell, Apple and others, they don't hold a candle to a device that every student can have with them at all times. (And, of course, the reality of cost.) I've lifted an eMac, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't fit all that well in a backpack. If you want "mass communication," then a netbook/iPhone/whatever that they can have with them at all times is going to teach our students much more about that than any desktop that they can only use a couple of hours a week.

  5. Just the other day I was wishing that electricity was wireless as I looked for an electric outlet to plug in my laptop. I'm loving the vision of flexibility. And the extra possibility it brings to all.