Junk Science... MIT declares Nokia power harvester can produce 50 milliwatts of power from the air!

On Tuesday, the prestigeous MIT Technology Review published a story by Duncan Graham-Rowe in which he claimed that Nokia "hopes to create a device that could harvest enough power to keep a cell phone topped up."

The article says, "A cell phone that never needs recharging might sound too good to be true, but Nokia says it's developing technology that could draw enough power from ambient radio waves to keep a cell-phone handset topped up.

"Ambient electromagnetic radiation--emitted from Wi-Fi transmitters, cell-phone antennas, TV masts, and other sources--could be converted into enough electrical current to keep a battery topped up, says Markku Rouvala, a researcher from the Nokia Research Centre, in Cambridge, U.K.

"Rouvala says that his group is working towards a prototype that could harvest up to 50 milliwatts of power--enough to slowly recharge a phone that is switched off. He says current prototypes can harvest 3 to 5 milliwatts."

Roy Freeland, CEO of energy harvesting pioneer Perpetuum  and I discussed this silliness at the Sensors show in Rosemont, IL yesterday.  Yes, silliness. Think about what the electromagnetic flux density would have to be in the ambient in order to pull this off. Now ask yourself how this report got published.

Absent negation of the inverse-square law, this kind of energy harvesting is highly unlikely, and I, for one, don't want to be physically present in any sort of electromagnetic energy flux that could provide 50 milliwatts of energy, especially right by my left ear.

Yet a website as prestigeous as MIT Technology Review and, at last count, another 30+ blogs and websites, were reporting this as factual.

In fact, when Freeland asked Nokia about it, Nokia Research Center's Fred Slezak gave him this statement: "Media reports have incorrectly stated that Nokia has a prototype device which can power itself from ambient electromagnetic energy and have quoted an NRC researcher as suggesting that devices may be powered by such technology in future.
"Though energy harvesting is an interesting research area which Nokia Research Center is actively pursuing, suggestions of this technology featuring in future products are premature and we do not currently have a prototype device.  As ever it is our policy not to speculate on when or whether research projects may become part of our portfolio."

Makes you wonder about a couple of things, doesn't it? It makes me wonder at the level of fact checking in modern journalism. It also makes me think twice about the level of awareness of the laws of basic physics in the modern population.

Maybe the graffiti on the wall on 19th Avenue in San Francisco in the late 1960s was right after all: "There is no gravity-- the earth sucks."

It's just as likely.