Children envision wireless power on the roads

IRVINE, CALIFORNIA - Cars powered by wireless electricity: it sounds like a sci-fi creation or an MIT invention.

In fact, it comes from the minds of second-graders at Westwood Basics Plus Elementary School in Irvine. With a little help from adults, of course.

Representatives from the city, the School Board and Toshiba walked into John Gustafson's classroom and lauded the four students for their forward-thinking idea, called CTRIC Pathways.

They topped 4,388 other submissions from across the U.S. and Canada in the "ExploraVision" competition.

The students, some who have been friends since kindergarten, briefed their guests on the history, physics and potential of "WiTricity," a technology that transfer energy to remote objects.

In the world envisioned by CTRIC Pathways, roadway lampposts are mounted with vibrating magnetic coils that send power to oncoming vehicles with "matching" receivers. Solar windshields recycle energy that's lost in the process, closing the loop.

Pretty heady stuff. For the kids, who talked by phone while munching lunch, it's just plain practical.

"Well, we knew that gas was made out of oil," said Dhruv Limaye, who studied the "consequences and breakthroughs" of the technology. "Oil is running out when we waste it. That means gas is limited."

Anika Chaukkar, whose architect dad mentored the students, said CTRIC sprang out of personal preference: "We all love cars."

But just as the students can't yet drive, the roads can't yet harness the students' idea.

"We have to put a lot of coils on the lampposts," said Limaye. "It'll take about 20 years."

They're also considering how to prevent things, such as big-rig trucks, from obstructing electric currents.

Could other youthful things, such as TV, get in the way of the students' collective dream?

Gustafson, who's been teaching since 1972, said he doesn't doubt his students' smarts – or their potential.

"They're not the type of kids who go home and say, 'hey, well, we did nothing at school today.'"

And indeed, there's much more to come. The students will now go on to compete for a top spot in the finals, for a trip to Washington D.C., and for thousands of dollars in savings bonds.


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