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Will new charging standard help cut the power cords?

A new power standard could cut out some of the cords used to charge mobile phones, Amy Gahran says.
A new power standard could cut out some of the cords used to charge mobile phones, Amy Gahran says.
  • In late July, the Wireless Power Consortium finalized a new standard called Qi
  • A new standard could lead to wireless chargers that are compatible with different devices
  • Companies like WiTricity might someday make Wi-Fi-like charging a reality

Editor's note: Amy Gahran writes about mobile tech for She is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and media consultant whose blog,, explores how people communicate in the online age.

(CNN) -- When does mobile not feel very mobile? Every time you have to plug in a cord to charge a device. But power cords could become a 20th century artifact (at least for small mobile devices) if wireless charging technology becomes affordable, reliable, interoperable and easy.

Imagine if wireless charging worked like Wi-Fi: You set up a router that broadcasts a standard charging signal, and devices compliant with that standard would absorb the energy as long as they're within range.

OK, we're not quite there yet. But recently there was a notable step forward in this direction. A new standard could lead to the availability of wireless chargers that are compatible with lots of different devices, even from different manufacturers.

This approach is rather how we already use standard USB-compliant ports and cables to charge all kinds of electronic devices -- only minus the ports and cables.

In late July, the Wireless Power Consortium finalized a new standard, called Qi, for the wireless charging of low-power devices (up to five watts).

This month, the Wireless Power Consortium also got its Qi product certification service up and running, which means companies can now develop and sell products bearing the Qi logo. But, as the Wireless Power Consortium notes, a standard is not enough to create a good user experience. If consumers start seeing the Qi logo on products, they shouldn't have to worry whether those devices can really be charged by a Qi-compliant charger.

ArsTechnica reports that "Qi certification testing services will begin in August, meaning products supporting the standard could start appearing this fall."

Inductive wireless chargers that require physical contact (but not plugging in) already are used with many consumer and specialty electronics -- from electric toothbrushes that charge when placed (but not plugged) into a special cradle, to cochlear implants that help deaf people hear, to the Palm Pre's Touchstone charger. Right now, these devices mostly have unique, dedicated chargers: you can't charge your cell phone by dropping it into your electric toothbrush cradle. This means you must own, keep available, and possibly carry around multiple chargers to keep all your devices powered.

Last fall the Powermat debuted. This wireless charging system features a mat onto which you place one or a few compatible electronic devices in special receiver sleeves. There are hundreds of Powermat-compatible devices, including many popular cell phones. Prices for Powermat mat/sleeve bundles start at $70.

Looking further ahead -- but perhaps not too much further ahead -- companies like WiTricity might someday make Wi-Fi-like wireless charging a reality. They're developing a wireless charging technology that would work over distances of a few meters, based on the physics principal of resonance: Coils in the charging station convert electricity into harmless magnetic fields, and coils in electronic devices convert the magnetic fields back into electricity. So electricity isn't flying around loose in the air like lightning.

A year ago, WiTricity CEO Eric Giler told CNN: "Five years from now, this will seem completely normal."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amy Gahran.


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