If you’re reading this article, which is only available through the Internet, then you’re basking in a tsunami of electromagnetic radiation. Don’t worry though, the vast majority of these waves are so low power that they don’t make it through the first layer of your skin before dissipating harmlessly. Still they do carry power, enough so that this article can worm its way from the server all the way to the device that you’re reading it on. Considering just how pervasive wireless signals are in our modern lives it then follows that there’s a potential source of energy there, one that’s essentially free and nigh on omnipresent. Whilst this is true, to some extent, actually harvesting a useful amount of it is a best impractical but that hasn’t stopped people from trying.
If you’re a longtime fan of Mythbusters like myself you’ll likely remember the episode they did on Free Energy back in 2004. In that episode they tested a myriad of devices to generate electricity, one of them being a radio wave extractor that managed to power half of a wristwatch. In an unaired segment they even rigged up a large coil of wire and placed it next to a high voltage power line and were able to generate a whopping 8mV. The result of all this testing was to show that, whilst there is some power available for harvesting, it’s not a usable quantity by any stretch of the imagination.
So you can imagine my surprise when a product like iFind makes claims like “battery free” and “never needs recharging” based around the concept of harvesting energy from the air.
The fundamental functionality of the iFind isn’t anything new, it’s just yet another Bluetooth tag system so you don’t lose whatever you attach the tag to. It’s claim to fame, and one that’s earned it a rather ridiculous half a million dollars, is that it doesn’t have a battery (which it does, unless you want to get into a semantic argument about what “battery” actually means) and that it charges off the electromagnetic waves around you. They’ve even gone as far to provide some technical documentation that shows the power generated from various signals. Suffice to say I think their idea is unworkable at best and, at worst, outright fraud.
The graphs they show in this comment would seem to indicate that it’s capable of charging even under very weak signal conditions, all the way down to -6dBm. That sounds great in principle until you take in account what a typical charging scenario for a device like this would be, like the “ideal” one that they talk about in some of their literature: a strong wifi signal. The graph shown above is the signal strength of my home wifi connection (an ASUS RT-N66U for reference) with the peak readings being from when I had my phone right next to the antennas. That gives a peak power output of some -22dBM, which sounds fine right? Well since those power ratings are logarithmic in nature the amount of power output is about 200 times weaker which puts the actual charge time at about 1000 days. If you had a focused RF source you could probably provide it with enough power to charge quickly but I doubt anyone has them in their house.
There’s also the issue of what kind of power source they have as the size precludes it from being anything hefty and they’re just referring to it as a “power bank”. Non-rechargeable batteries that fit within that form factor are usually on the order of a couple hundred milliamps with rechargeable variants having a much smaller capacity. Similar devices like Tile, which includes a non-rechargeable non-replaceable battery, lasts about a year before it dies which suggests a minimum power drain of at least a couple mAh per day. Considering iFind is smaller and rechargeable I wouldn’t expect it to last more than a couple weeks before giving it up, Of course since there’s no specifications on either of them it’s hard to judge but the laws of physics don’t differ between products.
However I will stop short of calling iFind a scam, more I think it’s a completely misguided exercise that will never deliver on its promises. They’ve probably designed something that does work under their lab circumstances but the performance will just not hold up in the real world. There’s a lot of questions that have been asked of them that are still unanswered which would go a long way to assuring people that what they’re making isn’t vaporware. Until they’re forthcoming with more information however I’d steer clear of giving them your money as it’s highly unlikely that the final product will perform as advertised.
I was watching one of the latest Mythbusters episodes recently when I noticed a strange phenomenon that looked oddly familiar. The experiment in question was testing the myth that a gun won’t fire in space (I.E. a perfect vacuum) something which Hollywood has a troubled past with. Whilst the answer was somewhat obvious before they began (hint: the answer, and the reasons behind it, are the same if you fired it underwater) the result was very impressive. Unfortunately I can’t find a direct link to the video however their high speed footage was nearly identical to what the Barking Dog experiment looks like, as shown in this video:
Seeing everything in slow motion is extremely interesting because it clearly shows how the sound is produced along with the characteristic light show. The flame front bouncing off the fuel saturated area pushes out the air above it, creating the sound, and as it approaches the bottom the time between those pulses rapidly decreases changing the tone of the resultant sound. In the Mythbusters episode you could see a lot of similarities although because it wasn’t an open ended system (due to the use of a vacuum) the sound produced was more of a descending low tone as the gas created by the bullet diffused and the shock wave ricocheted around.
When I was a young lad I never had much interest in the news. I found it pretty hard to sit down with my parents for what would equate to 30 minutes of some stranger lecturing me from the TV so I of course sourced information from various other places. Whilst this has changed recently (thank you whoever got me interested in politics, I now waste HOURS on the news!) I did start to notice a trend towards getting my information from non-traditional sources. It seems that I wasn’t alone in this fact as demonstrated by this article written about 5 years ago:
The 2004 presidential campaign is continuing the long-term shift in how the public gets its election news. Television news remains dominant, but there has been further erosion in the audience for broadcast TV news. The Internet, a relatively minor source for campaign news in 2000, is now on par with such traditional outlets as public television broadcasts, Sunday morning news programs and the weekly news magazines. And young people, by far the hardest to reach segment of the political news audience, are abandoning mainstream sources of election news and increasingly citing alternative outlets, including comedy shows such as the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, as their source for election news.
Although a tad old (They of course couldn’t of included The Colbert Report, which came out a year later) this article does highlight some good points about the way young people are getting their information about political matters. I wouldn’t of believed the majority of it myself if it wasn’t for one of my not-so-politically-inclined housemates showing a keen understanding of American politics with little to no idea about Australia. Just so happens that he was an avid fan of both of these shows.
Edutainment, whilst sounding like some execu-marketing type word, is now becoming one of those areas where a significant amount of influence can be quantified. Whilst the Generation X crowd still had some respect for the good old fashion way of dredging up their political information the Gen Y crowd (who I am a part of) are increasingly connected and are very demanding on their information sources. The research seems to show that a typical gen y person will have an average attention span of about 20 minutes and you’ll find that most TV shows base themselves around this demographic. They also tend to embrace technology, cornering my demographic even further.
Not all of the edutainment programs out there are politically charged either. Probably the most famous example is Mythbusters, a show I thoroughly enjoy watching every week. Whilst the science can be a little shaky at times it’s still a great show to get people into science and engineering. Not all of these kinds of shows are American either, with shows like Good News Week here in Australia being highly popular even after being cancelled for several years.
I see these kinds of programs as an evolution in the industry. No longer are comedic and entertaining shows seen as just avenues to market products, the populace at large now enjoys a bit of education mixed in with their TV watching. Personally I love it, and there’s nothing better to me then a good documentary or a few episodes of Mythbusters blowing things up. Sure it might not be the best way to learn, but it’s by far the most appealing and it seems the rest of my generation agrees with me.
Now if only I convince an exec that a reality TV show in space is a good idea….. 🙂