Wireless Power Consortium to unleash electronic gadgets

Several companies will start work on a standard for induction chargers used to power devices without wires.

The Wireless Power Consortium hopes to make powering portable electronic devices simpler by offering a standard way to recharge them without wires.

Devices such as phones, music players and digital cameras all come with their own power adaptors or chargers. Each brand or model seems to have a different plug, incompatible with the others.

Companies such as Fulton Innovation or ConvenientPower aim to replace all those plugs with flat charging panels based on magnetic induction: just laying a device equipped for wireless recharging on the panel is sufficient to charge it. Induction refers to the way in which an oscillating electric current in a coil of wire creates a changing magnetic field around it, which can induce a corresponding electric current in another coil nearby.

Fulton, ConvenientPower and six other electronics companies have formed the Wireless Power Consortium to ensure that we don't simply swap a plethora of incompatible chargers for a similar number of incompatible wireless chargers, they announced Thursday.

Magnetic induction devices from another two of the consortium members, Philips and Sanyo Electric, neatly illustrate that danger. Philips uses it in chargers for electric toothbrushes, table lights and intimate massagers, while Sanyo Electric offers a wireless charger for the remote control of Nintendo's Wii game console. However, those chargers are shaped to fit the devices they are sold with, and are not interchangeable.

Beyond their physical form, there are other ways in which magnetic induction chargers from different manufacturers may be incompatible: they may operate at different frequencies, or with inductors of different sizes or impedances -- all factors which can limit the current passed between a charger of one brand and a device of another.

The consortium's first goal is to create an international standard for magnetic induction chargers capable of delivering up to 5 watts of power, enough to recharge a mobile phone in the same time as a wired charger. It will follow that with a standard for more power-hungry devices such as laptops, some of which have power adapters capable of delivering around 100 watts.

The other consortium members are mouse maker Logitech; Shenzhen Sang Fei Consumer Communications, a Chinese company that makes phones for Philips, and chip makers National Semiconductor and Texas Instruments. TI said last month it will make chips that work with Fulton's eCoupled wireless charging system.

The consortium is open to other manufacturers, and intends to make its specification and logo available to all on a non-discriminatory basis. It hopes to attract manufacturers of mobile phones, music and video players, computer accessories, cameras, remote controls, toys, and games.

Fulton sees a wider market for the technology, as a clean way of delivering power not just to geek gadgets but also to kitchen utensils such as blenders, through wireless power transmitters embedded in counter tops. It was one of two companies that demonstrated magnetic induction chargers at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last January. It has since bought the other, Splashpower, which ran into financial difficulties in March.

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