January 5, 2007 2:09 PM PST

Wireless power gets recharged

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Everything else is going wireless--phones, Internet, television, e-mail and music sharing. Now add power to the list.

At the Consumer Electronics Show next week, two companies--Arizona-based start-up WildCharge and Michigan-based Fulton Innovation--will demonstrate what are expected to be very different ways to give gadgets juice, sans wires.

"The social aspect of being able to have one adapter that powers all those devices is much more environmentally friendly and universally friendly to the consumer."
--David Baarman, lead inventor of eCoupled

The concept isn't new, and some of the same challenges--such as cost and size--that have prevented the technology from winning over manufacturers still remain. But executives at the companies, who won't say how much their recharging devices will cost, hope the sheer amount of mobile gadgets today could portend a different outcome.

WildCharge's product, called the WildCharger, can recharge a variety of handheld gadgets at once--mobile phones, MP3 players, digital cameras--or a laptop by placing them on a metallic pad. WildCharge execs refused to describe in detail how their product works before CES, but it's a streamlined version of the product a company called MobileWise attempted to market several years ago, according to WildCharge president Izhar Matzkevich.

People familiar with wireless recharging technology say it could work by placing a device, fitted internally or externally with an adapter, onto the metal pad. When contact is made, electrical power is sent between the two.

At CES, WildCharge will debut a 90-watt device. Smart phones and MP3 players need 3 to 5 watts, while smaller laptops need 50 to 75 watts of power. While the 0.1-inch thick and 6x15-inch pad still has to be plugged into a power source, the advantage is its universal adaptability, eliminating the need to pack three different power cords for three different products.

Fulton Innovation's vision is similar, but the technology is different. Fulton calls its technology eCoupled, and has signed up Motorola, Mobility Electronics, Visteon and others to back it as a wireless power standard.

Devices that are eCoupled-enabled transfer energy through the air over short distances to handheld consumer electronics gadgets one at a time, using what's called adaptive inductive coupling. A wireless adapter senses how much power a specific device's battery needs and adjusts its frequency and how much power is being sent to the device. The technology is a good fit for universal power because it can work with any type of battery, said David Baarman, director of advanced technologies at Fulton and lead inventor of eCoupled.

The process creates an electromagnetic field, but does not interfere with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth devices and won't demagnetize credit cards, Baarman said.

"When the device is present, (the field) is on. When it's not, it turns off." As a result, "it's radiating a tiny bit; in most cases, it's less than what a typical CE product already is (radiating)."

A car cup holder that recharges devices
Visteon, a Fulton partner and maker of high-end automotive products, will debut a consumer version of an eCoupled product at CES, a car cup holder that recharges devices set inside it using eCoupled's induction process. The cup holder needs only to be plugged into the car's 12-volt outlet.

The idea, said T.C. Wingrove, Visteon's senior manager of innovation, is to have a "hot spot" in the car where you set down your phone or iPod and never have to worry about different types of power cords or outlets.

The first version of the product will be available this summer, said Wingrove, and will require gadgets that need recharging to sport a wireless adapter, similar to a Bluetooth dongle used for mobile phones. But the next step is a battery pack for phones, one with a profile similar to a phone, that would integrate easily with each phone's wireless circuitry. The ideal application, though, would be to have gadget makers integrate the adapters into each device and to have car makers integrate cup holders or other wireless power products into cars themselves, which Wingrove said to expect in late 2008.

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