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Monday, January 08, 2007

CES: Recharging without wires

It is fascinating to see wireless recharging coming up as an issue at this years Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Two US companies are exhibiting technologies to recharge equipment without having to plug them in, following in the footsteps of a Cambridge company, Splashpower.
Arizona-based start-up WildCharge is doing pretty much the same as Splashpower: a plate that equipment can sit on and be recharged. Splashpower has been working on the SplashPad and, more importantly, getting the power antenna and electronics into the battery or into the equipment, for the last three years. It also holds a fundamental patent on this charging approach, which will make for a very interesting time over the next year.
The WildCharger similarly recharges equipment by placing it on a metallic pad, a version of technology from a company called MobileWise several years ago. Unlike the SplashPad, which is targetting handheld equipment in the 3 – 10W range, the WildCharger is a 90-watt system to handle laptops as well.
And then there is the charging cup holder! Fulton Innovation has developed a similar technology called eCouple using the same adaptive inductive coupling technology.
Critically, it has signed up equipment makers such as Motorola, Mobility Electronics, Visteon and others to back it as a wireless power standard, but this also has led to the first product being developed by car sub-system supplier Visteon: a car cup holder that recharges devices set inside it using eCoupled's induction process via the 12V cigarette ighter.
The idea, like the Wildcharger and the SplashPad, is to have a "hot spot" where you set down your handheld to charge. The ting is, we know a lot more about the technology used by SplashPower and the issues it faces, rather than the new startups.
The first version of the cup holder will be available this summer, bu the SplashPad has been available for several years – the trick is getting the charging dongles for the equipment out in the market so that people will use the pads – a classic catch 22.

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