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Hamilton: Say goodbye to that tangle of useless chargers

There’s a big basket in my kitchen that functions as a dump site for the numerous gadget chargers accumulating in my home.

We have chargers for two digital cameras, two MP3 players, two cell phones, a netbook and a bunch of other devices we don’t use anymore or which have been lost. It’s kind of like a key chain where half the keys are a mystery, but you keep them anyway just in case.

Of course, when you go to get a charger it always seems to be trapped in a knotted ball of cords, like three or four snakes having an orgy. If this is your home, and if you share the same frustration, you’ll be delighted to learn that a new standard was released this summer that’s expected to give a serious boost to wireless charging.

Wireless charging is a relatively new technology so there are only a handful of products on the market, most based on a technology called magnetic induction. One product is a flat charging pad called the Powermat. All you do is place your gadget on the Powermat and the device begins charging automatically – no wires required.

It’s convenient, yes, but the problem is that you have to buy a sleeve that slips onto your gadget, or use some other add-on that’s specially designed to receive a charge from the pad. You can wirelessly charge your BlackBerry Bold or iPhone or iPod touch, but you’ll have to purchase an add-on for each device. And those add-ons will only work with Powermat. They’re not compatible with other proprietary charging pads.

You can see why standards are so important. Imagine if they hadn’t developed the 802.11 standard that today is the basis for all wireless Wi-Fi networks?

We used to buys wireless cards for every laptop we purchased, but the 802.11 standard gave hardware makers the confidence to build the technology directly into their products. Today, every laptop and netbook has a wireless receiver embedded inside it that automatically detects Wi-Fi hotspots in your area.

A group called the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) is trying to go down the same path with wireless charging. It has developed a standard called Qi that is supported by Samsung, Duracell, Energizer, Sanyo and Nokia, to name a few.

Research In Motion became a member of the consortium last December, and as momentum builds it’s only a matter of time before Apple, Intel and other hardware heavyweights climb aboard.

How could this evolve? It’s still early days, but my guess is that in three years we could see every rechargeable gadget on the market have Qi as a standard built-in feature. It means when you buy a charging mat it will also be Qi compatible. Just throw two or three of your gadgets on the pad and they’ll charge simultaneously. No add-ons. No cords. No clutter.

There’s also the potential to reduce waste. Consider that in the United States roughly 434 million external power supplies for consumer electronic devices were “retired” in 2008. The bulk of that ended up in a landfill or being incinerated. Wireless charging means no cords and less waste, right?

I don’t buy it. It’s not like RIM is going to sell you a BlackBerry without a charger, based simply on the assumption that you could already own a wireless charging pad. The company will still include a charger with the device you purchase. You just won’t use it.

There’s another concern I have with wireless charging: inefficiency. The WPC says it’s about 70 per cent efficient, but 50 per cent is a more realistic number. Wired chargers (power adapters), by comparison, must now have an average efficiency of at least 80 per cent to be Energy Star qualified.

It’s a big efficiency gap that could add up. The International Energy Agency estimates that between now and 2030 we’re going to see a threefold increase in the amount of electricity consumed by household electronics, requiring the addition of 280 gigawatts of new power capacity globally – or the amount of power generation in Canada, times two.

Even just a 10-per-cent drop in efficiency, in other words, can add up to huge numbers.

Today it’s gadgets. Tomorrow it will be wireless power transfer for laptops and TVs and stereo systems, with the potential to cut the cord completely from your life. Even wireless charging of electric cars is in the works.

San Jose-based Evatran has already developed a floor-mounted wireless charging station in the shape of a parking block. Just drive your electric car onto the block and – voila! – your car’s battery is soaking up electrons.

Read more at
Source: thestar.com

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