It may sound like science fiction, but Drayson Technologies new Freevolt gadget really does produce electricity for nothing. How? By exploiting the so-called electrosmog that surrounds us all, it harvests nano-scale amounts of unused electrical power from the wi-fi and mobile phone radio signals we all rely on to communicate these days.
Lord Drayson - who seasoned MT readers will recall was the government science minister under Gordon Brown, and made his first fortune from the invention of high-tech disposable syringe PowderJect in the 90s - is very excited about his new venture which he describes as a ‘world first, designed and made in the UK’.
Speaking in the Michael Faraday lecture theatre at the Royal Institution in central London this morning, he added, ‘This is the first time I have been involved in something that really has the capacity to change the world.’
Although it might surprise anyone who has ever dangled out of an upstairs window in order to get a phone signal, it turns out there is enough energy left over from wi-fi and mobile network signals after we have all finished talking, emailing, whatsapping and instagramming, to actually do some useful work. Such as powering miniature sensors for the forthcoming Internet of Things revolution, or providing the juice for a wearable tech wristband that never needs charging.
We’re not talking about very much power - the dream of a self charging mobile phone that never needs plugging in will remain just that, unfortunately - but it’s there if you know how to get at it. And even the few microwatts that Freevolt typically delivers is about as close to being a free lunch as the uncompromising First Law of Thermodynamics will allow.
At the heart of the smartphone-sized (albeit much thinner and lighter) Freevolt card are three bits of brand new, highly-patented Drayson tech:
1. A very clever antenna that harvests energy in all directions and across the full range of frequencies used by mobile, wi-fi and DTV networks.
2. An ultra-efficient rectifier (an electronic component which converts the alternating current of radio waves into direct current needed to power electronics)
3. A power management module that continuously locks on to the point of strongest signal to maximise output.
The company is looking for partners, hackers and even garden shed inventors to adopt Freevolt and come up with applications for the remarkable device, but to set the ball rolling it has come up with its own Freevolt-powered product.
Called the CleanSpace it is a personal air pollution monitor designed to sit in the wearer’s pocket and the measure air pollution where they are, 24/7. It has no battery and it never needs charging - Freevolt provides enough power for the pollution sensor, and for a Bluetooth module to send the results to your smartphone, and thence to the cloud.
London-born Drayson, a lifelong asthma sufferer, thus hopes that an army of CleanSpace-wearing citizen scientists will help map carbon-monoxide hotspots in unprecedented detail and clean up the air in our cities.
Fighting smog with free power thanks to electrosmog, you might say. Neat.