CES - Wireless power on its way

Devices charge cell phones, laptops without wires

Wireless power to recharge cell phones, laptops and other devices was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show this week by at least two vendors whose products are expected to reach consumers later this year.

Splashpower in Cambridge, England, and Fulton Innovation in Ada, Mich., separately showed prototypes, but both said their products rely on a principle of physics called magnetic induction, or inductive coupling, where power transfers from coils inside two separate objects separated by air, water or other materials.

Splashpower's marketing materials described the power transfer process as similar to how electric toothbrushes are recharged when the brush is placed in a base connected to a wall socket, even though the base and brush have no metal connectors and transfer power when only plastic comes into contact with plastic.

Splashpower's Stuart Reed, business development manager, said the company's prototype requires a base station plugged into a wall socket and a separate connector specific to each kind of mobile phone or MP3 player, so that when the phone and the connector were placed atop the base, charging begins.

Fulton has converted a wireless power process used in water treatment technology for use in consumer applications for charging laptops and cell phones, and potentially for home appliances. In demonstrations with small devices, Fulton used a concept similar to Splashpower's approach, with a base station and a separate component attached to each device.

But Fulton is also developing technology so that the base station could be incorporated under or inside a desktop so that a laptop or phone could be charged by simply placing the laptop in a certain location. Scott Mollema, senior scientist, demonstrated both a 38-watt wireless transfer of power, as well as one for 1.4 kilowatts, which could be used for kitchen appliances.

In addition, Fulton has incorporated intelligence into its technology, which it calls eCoupled, to allow the primary power supply circuit in a base station or the desktop to dynamically adapt to match the wattage and voltage needs of the object it charges, Mollema said.

Pricing and product availability were not released, but Fulton has partnerships with Motorola Corp. and other device makers that would bring the technology to market.

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