Intel is mainly known for its microprocessors, but it’s another technology that was unveiled at this week’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF) that has a lot of people talking: Wireless power.

To some, the idea may sound like pure science fiction, but it is very real. Various groups of scientists around the world have been working on it for years, but the problem has mainly been the efficiency, or rather the inefficiency with which power is transfered over the air. Most of it is lost before it can reach its destination. On Thursday however, Intel showed that it could transmit 60 watts of power over a few feet while maintaining 75 percent efficiency.

“The power pack for you laptop isn’t that efficient,” Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner told USA Today in an interview.

And that’s really the key. While it would be great to power a light bulb wirelessly, as Intel demoed at IDF, the real key is being able to charge our ever-growing array of devices wirelessly. I live in a fairly small apartment and have no less than 4 surge protectors, not so much because I’m afraid of power surges on all my equipment, but more because I need all those outlets for the number of gadgets I have.

The best use of wireless charging will be for wireless devices themselves. It’s tiresome to have to remember to plug in my phone, my iPods, my laptops and anything else I routinely use on the go. Imagine if these devices could recharge simply by being in your home. In fact, Rattner says Intel is working on a new laptop that will accept wireless power charges.

Of course, that’s a ways off, right now the technology only works over a few feet and that’s using very large coils (see the picture above) to send the electricity. Also problematic is the fact that the electromagnetic field made by this technology can interfere with other functionality of devices.

This technology is not dangerous to humans since it use magnetic fields to transmit energy and not electric fields. Magnetic fields can pass through the human body without harming anything.

MIT researchers made headlines last year with their “WiTricity” (Wireless Electricity) test that also lit a light bulb from several feet away, but at a much worse efficiency than the Intel test. Now those same scientists are said to have jacked up the efficiency to a pretty incredible 90 percent, meaning they’ve doubled efficiency in a year’s time. If true, it’s exciting to think about where this tech will be in another year.

Startups such as Powercast, WildCharge and Powerbeam are working on the technology as well.

Nikola Tesla, the scientist who was working on wireless power around the turn of the last century, would be proud.

Watch the video below for more on Intel’s efforts:


[photo: flickr/nick nunns and Intel]