View Full Version : DM Help What does wireless commercial power transfer actually mean for a campaign setting?

2015-11-09, 02:25 AM
Tesla wanted to pull it off, but no dice. Well, let's handwave it and say somebody pulled it off. Figures out some way to beam power through air without wires. I don't really care how much that violates the laws of physics. We're fantasy RPG writers. If nothing else, we can make a wizard do it. What does that actually mean, though? What could we build with a technology level in the 1880s with such devices that we couldn't build IRL? The 1920s? 60s? Now?

2015-11-09, 02:41 AM
Is this beamed power attenuated at all by anything? Distance? Line of sight? Perhaps living matter creates a barrier that blocks the eta waves? Or maybe vacuum does (nix that space programme)? Perhaps the eta waves require solid matter to enable transmission (in which case no beamed power flying machines). How mature a technology is beamed power in each timeline? How commonplace?

Had Tesla actually succeeded, you'd probably find a world much like Gernsback (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GURPS_Alternate_Earths#Gernsback) from GURPS. In that setting, he discovered it in the 1920s, at which point it is little more than an experimental device. By the 1960s it is ubiquitous, and you have most private vehicles and all public transport powered with beamed power instead of petrol. Beamed power transmitter coverage operates in a similar manner to mobile phone coverage in our timeline.

The primary change from this is that conventional forms of air pollution are much less of an issue (atmospheric ionisation caused by beamed power is glossed over, as is the higher radiation levels from all the nuclear power plants). While vehicles are free from fuel requirements, they are still tied to needing a network of beamed power transmitters, which limits their operating area. Many vehicles have supplementary batteries or solar panels to cover for gaps in the grid. Military vehicles will often have conventional fuel on board instead of beamed power receivers, due to the risk of an enemy disabling the power transmitters.

2015-11-09, 03:08 PM
Anything that is limited in its use today by power sources needing to be too large (such as laser weapons or powered exoskeletons) would be usable, at least within range of a beaming station. Electric vehicles would be widespread, as noted by Ashtagon; I'd argue that the dependence of the vehicles on a central infrastructure would hasten the usage of public autonomous cars as well. Drones would be more common than they are now, and they would be older in their use, so legislation would be in place in the setting, rather than something people are trying to scramble to get out. Homes could be placed well away from anything, so long as they had a power receiver capable of linking to a transmitter, so development patterns would more resemble the pattern shown with cell phones than that of plumbing or electrical lines.

Mark Hall
2015-11-09, 03:28 PM
Consider another side... since it's commercial, you might wind up with stuff dying when the money runs out.

2015-11-11, 05:37 PM
One of the questions, as we develop wireless power, that comes up is: is it something to which you can selectively disallow access?

With wifi, we can't stop you from interacting with the router, but we can password-lock it so that the router won't handle any of your traffic.

With wireless power as we know it right now, it's power. You can't STOP somebody from accessing it without shutting it off (and denying it to everyone).

How would power get paid for? Who pays for it? There are a number of ways to answer this question, but it's an important one to answer because HOW it is answered shape the answer to the OP's question.

2015-11-12, 12:17 AM
Could you tighten the beam so you can at least limit the directions the power is transmitted? Not a perfect solution, but I could see it used by field generators for military use.

2015-11-12, 10:24 AM
Could you tighten the beam so you can at least limit the directions the power is transmitted? Not a perfect solution, but I could see it used by field generators for military use.

If we assume this is soft sci-fi, so the mechanism for how the power is transferred is open to technobabble, then you can do whatever you want with it. Just make sure that the rules, once you establish them, are followed.

If you are referring to the kind of power that we're actually researching... probably, but not easily. The nature of how the power is transferred means that any effort to do so likely will cause power to be grounded down and out through the directing array. The physics of the technology are fascinating, using a form of coupled induction and magnetic fields to make a low-drain passive field which allows circuit completion at a distance.

2015-11-12, 03:33 PM
Maybe it's the years as an environmentalist, but if tesla did manage to use the ionosphere for projection of electric power anywhere in the world, animal species would react wildly and unexpectedly. Maybe migratory birds navigate to the wrong place now.

Imagine if there were "bird reports" as part of weather news that talked about thousands of birds travelling in weird patterns. Government biologists devoted to keeping all of these different species of birds from going extinct have to develop "bird suits" to go out and provide tons of food to the maelstrom of birds.

Meanwhile, "soviet" hackers find a way to control the power flow of the ionosphere through hacking to usher this flow of birds into certain targets.

Another crazy option is to make the wireless transformation of this energy be a detecting mechanism for invisible "time tourists." People from the future who pay thousands of dollars to witness big events in the past. All of a sudden, during monumental events, shimmering ghostlike forms can be seen aggregating around the nexuses of big events. If this is set on earth, and tesla got this off the ground by the 1920s, that means that hitler was surrounded by millions of "ghosts" all of whom are seen trying to attack him but passing right on through.

2015-11-12, 04:21 PM
If I recall correctly, Tesla's plans actually would have transmitted power through the ground, not the air.

Honest Tiefling
2015-11-12, 04:26 PM
I would imagine trying to hijack these networks for the purposes of destruction or theft would be quite common. Making the network somehow incompatible to foreign armies would be a huge concern, or developing vehicles to get around people shutting down the network would be necessary for warfare.

I wonder if this would cause manufacturing to be more remote, since power is not a concern. Manpower and getting the stuff out of the factory would still be however.

2015-11-12, 04:34 PM
Again, a lot of the "what does this mean?" depends on specifics we're not provided.

For example, the real-world system MIT has in development, last I checked on it, was a ceiling-fan-sized ring that could provide power to a room roughly the size of your average living room. The trouble with it is that it has only about a 60% power transfer rate, so it is enormously expensive in terms of lost power.

This is a relatively limited range, so you still have to get power to the BUILDING, but could have, say, laptops and cell phones and the like charging or even running off of it (if the efficiency could be increased). You could have people stealing power by having their devices near "enough" to latch on, and if you're stealing, you don't care about the inefficiency because it's not YOUR electric bill.

These systems wouldn't be any easier to hack, however, than the modern power grid (which, to preserve us from an entirely different discussion, I will not go into how easy THAT is to hack). Nor are they directional, nor can you set up any sort of password protection to stop somebody from using it without your permission. If it's on, anybody in range can tap it. But at the same time, it's not going to send power from a power plant to a distant building without wires. That's just not the kind of range this technology provides.

2015-11-12, 10:24 PM
Again, a lot of the "what does this mean?" depends on specifics we're not provided.I can't really go into specifics. I'm fishing for options, and the specifics would in the end have to depend on what makes an interesting setting. I'm not an electrical engineer, so going into detail is also hard.

2015-11-12, 11:28 PM
I can't really go into specifics. I'm fishing for options, and the specifics would in the end have to depend on what makes an interesting setting. I'm not an electrical engineer, so going into detail is also hard.

Well, without specifics, then the answer is "nearly anything." D&D constructs are a good example of some of what you could do: machines which move without needing refueling or a power cord.

A lot of what it could do is already present in our own tech in the real world; if you ignore the need to plug your batteries in to recharge, you can see "wireless power" in action on a lot of devices these days.

If it can transmit at any power level needed, you can build much smaller, more powerful devices; the limiting factor on size of a lot of phones is the battery. It can't get smaller than it already is and still run the devices.

Cars would run quieter. Depending on whether you could track who used what power, electric cars might have a tax on them to pay for their energy usage, since they couldn't be prevented from tapping it. If they could, then there would be a bill just like any other power bill at the end of the month, but you'd never run out of "gas." If range is unlimited, then cars and other vehicles go everywhere. If range is limited, then HOW limited determines whether remote-powered cars are feasible as an urban-only thing, a sub-urban thing, or not at all.

2015-11-13, 01:37 AM
I came up with an answer as to how I imagine people pay for power. Near impossibility of preventing people from tapping into power currents could mean it isn't really profitable to run a power company, so the government handles electricity production and distribution, paid for through taxation. The actual usage of power doesn't come with a price, but there is a substantial yearly tax on car ownership that goes to power generation, along with a portion of property and capital gains taxation. That said, maybe a third of adults in my setting's main country live in a household that owns a car, and the majority of them are rural. Outside of dense areas, service drops off quick, and you start seeing power lines (I hereby decide that wireless distribution plants are big, high tech affairs filled with engineers. You aren't running one in a small town.) and people using petrol vehicles. The military is running off of petrol, and uses batteries, petrol generators, and wired devices do to the common lack of access to wireless power in the field. Even in urban combat. Those plants usually go offline quick in a fight. I've been explaining low rates of suburbanization and high density with reasons not involving power generation, but if distributing power to suburban and rural areas is a pain, that could be a factor in people choosing city living, if not a decisive one. For people used to wireless power everywhere, having to plug everything in because you don't live near a wireless distribution plant would be a pain. And if car ownership is taxed to pay for the electricity that runs them, that could be another reason so many people decide not to get a car, given the high density and widespread and frequent public transit coverage posing an untaxed alternative. Oh, and the electricity does go through walls. Somewhat. It'll go through an apartment building easy, but a concrete basement? Maybe not.

That's what I've got so far.

2015-11-13, 11:06 AM
Other details

Circumpolar migratory birds affected (detailed above)

Fleets of wireless mechanical bees are crafted to replace the natural ones that die off from pesticide use.

Ocean sensing would be amazing. Marine science would be far more advanced.

Tiny fly sized "personal surveillance" machines are deployed in the UK. Thus keeping people under constant surveillance.

Naturally occuring dead zones would be a thing. Hackers would exploit such regions.

Artificially produced dead zones would also be a thing. Hackers would exploit such things.

You still need electricity generation to scale up. So that leaves you with an option of coal, nuclear, wind, and gas. Solar has only been economically feasible for the past 10 years or so. Many of those options require big resource extraction.

2015-11-22, 12:20 PM
Actually, it would probably be possible to require a licence to build devices that draw from the wireless power, record the devices people own and make it illegal to tap the grid without paying tax. Not 100% effective but this is used to enforce things like TV licensing in the UK.

However, how you pay for it is probably not an important detail for your game, unless you are running Taxation: the Reckoning :-)