Forget about stealing your neighbor's Wi-Fi to surf the internet. Using cheap everyday materials, researchers at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering have developed a remarkable device that can convert microwave signals, like those used to wirelessly transmit the internet, into usable electricity. So in the future, you might instead be able to use your neighbor's Wi-Fi network to power your home.

Remarkably, the device, which can be tuned to harvest energy from everything from wireless routers, to cellphone towers, to even passing satellites, has been found to be as efficient as modern solar panels. And as the research continues, that efficiency is only going to be improved.

A full technical explanation can be found over here, but the important things to know are that it works, and that its implications are staggering. When further miniaturized, these cells could be built into a cellphone that perpetually charges itself as long as you have a signal. And the ability to even tap into wireless signals beamed down from a satellite means that networks of climate and weather monitoring sensors could be distributed in the most remote parts of the world without requiring a tethered power source. But the simple fact that this technique even works is just amazing. [Duke University Pratt School of Engineering via Gizmag]