Theoretically, scientists have known for more than 100 years that it was possible to power devices without wires.
In fact, the same 19-century physicist and engineer who demonstrated wireless communications also experimented with wireless energy transfer. Nikola Tesla, genius, inventor of the radio, and the subject of episode 60 of the Mythbusters, tried in the early 1900s to build Wardenclyffe Tower for the wireless transfer of energy.
But three years later he ran out of money. During World War I, they dismantled the Tower for scrap metal and Tesla continued with other scientific questions, such as which is the superior gender (women), is Einstein a genius or derivative (derivative and overrated), can I build a death ray, (maybe - but he didn't). And then he died alone. Upon his death, the U.S. government confiscated his papers and declared them Top Secret.
Then, for 100 years, nothing. But finally, researchers at MIT have constructed a theory and an experiment to test the idea of wireless power transfer.
And guess what? Tesla was right - it worked out. MIT researchers used two two-foot diameter coils, a transmitter and a light bulb, outfitted with a receiver, and sent energy without a wire. Even though it was seven feet away, it glowed. In fact, it even worked when they placed wood and other electrical devices between transmitter and receiver.
Researchers say the low frequency electromagnetic waves used in the device won't hurt humans. I'd like to trust them, but we've all heard that sort of assurance from scientists, often about 10 years before hundreds or thousands of people turn up with odd forms of cancer.
Health assurances aside, the real downside is the energy efficiency. The power transfer was 40 percent efficient - a pretty low number, particular with today's energy costs.
Now researchers say they'll work on building a smaller device that can send enough power to fuel other electronics, including - cross your fingers - a laptop.