As we wait for the upcoming Orbo webinar on December 2, I think the promise of this technology bears thinking about.
If Orbo turns out to do what Steorn claims it does, the technology is simply stunning. What CEO Shaun McCarthy talks about in this video — a webinar for Steorn investors that was somehow made public — is that they have managed to make a power unit that puts out a steady electrical current indefinitely (well almost, McCarthy said that theoretically it could run for 800 years), without any kind of energy input needed.
Think about that for a moment. Our whole attitude towards electricity revolves around the need for some external power source. As far as lights and household appliances go, we think in terms of wires, plugs and access to electricity generation (normally the electric grid). With mobile devices we accept the fact that they need charging, and keeping an eye on the amount of charge in our phones, tablets, laptops, etc. is a daily habit for most of us.
Electricity generation requires a large and complex infrastructure to get the electricity to the end user, which is part of the fabric of civilization. You have industries that pull fuels out of the ground or harness the power of the sun, wind and water, industries that generate power at vast power stations, and a utility industry that transmits and sells energy to the end user. Generally we don’t think much about this infrastructure until something goes wrong, and only when the power goes out, or the battery dies do we tend to appreciate all the benefits that electricity brings us.
But what has Steorn managed to do with Orbo? Well, if they are correct in their claims, they have managed to do an end-run around these industries, and to somehow find a way to create a constant and reliable source of electricity seemingly out of thin air at the point of use — which is something unheard of.
How on earth have they done this?
They won’t say much about technical details, but in the video mentioned above, Shaun McCarthy says the secret lies in a device called an electret, which is the electrical equivalent of a permanent magnet. Just as a permanent magnet emits a constant magnetic field which never diminishes, and electret generates a constant and permanent electric field.
Steorn have not invented the elecret — they have been around for years, and are used in devices like microphones — but what Steorn seem to have figured out is a way to configure electrets in a way that allow for the generation of a constant voltage that can be used to power a device indefinitely.
The first Orbo product that will go on sale is the O-Cube — a charge that you can use to charge you phone, tablet, or any other USB-powered device. It apparently puts out 0.4 Watts continuously, which is certainly not very much in the grand scheme of things, but if it works, it will be a device unlike anything that has ever been seen in history. And it will be only the start. Already, McCarthy and the “ogirl” (aka Rachel Wallace) are talking on Facebook about an “ophone”, which is a phone that does not every need to be recharged. This is what ogirl wrote on Facebook a few days ago:
We may get some more information about the ophone on December 2nd.
I think important thing to realize here is that if Orbo works, these two devices will just the very beginning of a technology that would be revolutionary. McCarthy said in the investors webinar that power density is the key to the development of Orbo, and that power density is dependent upon manufacturing capabilities. To increase power density (i.e. get more power per volume) is a matter of advanced manufacturing.
My guess is that if Orbo is shown to work effectively, Steorn won’t have much trouble licensing the technology to companies that have the capability to greatly improve the power density of Orbo. Then, I think it is entirely possible that you might have things like light bulbs, laptops, televisions, and all kinds of electronic devices manufactured with a built-in power source. No need to plug in, and no cost for power beyond the initial purchase price. Of course right now, this is all future, but if Orbo works, I think these projections are not outlandish.
Right now, Steorn is hoping to finally make a profit and give something back to the investors that have backed them for the past 10 years or more. The first devices are extremely expensive (1200 euros for an O-Cube). But if these early Orbo devices are shown to work, I am sure that the price will drop dramatically, especially if Orbo is licensed to outside manufacturers.