Wireless power sputters on

I'm not holding my breath waiting for wireless power. It looks like yet another promising idea doomed by technology wars.

The technology for inductive coupling has been practical for a long while - if you use an electric toothbrush, chances are it charges using elctromagnetic induction. It sits on its own charger, and no wires are exposed.

There's a bigger potential here though: general purpose inductive chargers. Place any device on it, and it charges. No need to carry multiple charges for all your devices - or any chargers at all, if these chargers were widely installed. There's an obvious drawback of course - the mammoth task of getting all device makers (or even a significant number of them) to build to one standard. That task was actually impossible, because even if device makers thought of doing it, they had to choose between multiple choices of inductive power technology, from mulitple start-ups.

That was what doomed the only inductive charge company I've actually met: SplashPower of Cambridge UK. It knocked around for four years or so, making such a tiny impression that I was completely unaware it had gone bankrupt in April, and been acquired by rival Fulton Innovations, maker of the eCoupled technology.

Could this be the start of a concerted effort to make it work? In the last few days, a wireless power consortium has launched, promising to make a standard. Members include Fulton, and another wireless power company ConvenientPower, along with Logitech, National Semiconductor, Philips, Sanyo, Shenzhen Sang Fei Consumer Communications and Texas Instruments.

From its site, I have to say this consortium doesn't impress me. It gives no indication of what sort of standard it intends to produce, or where it will have it published or endorsed. It lists four products to illustrate inductive coupling, all of which use their own specialised chargers. They include a Wii remote charger from Sanyo, and three devices from Philips: a toothbrush, an "LED candle" and an "intimate massager".

Fulton's eCoupled works with modified devices, including, demonstrated in a Youtube video, a George Foreman grill (Don't, by the way, get confused and ask for a George Formby Grill, though that also appears to be wireless).

Meanwhile, rival WildCharge is ploughing its own furrow. It has "skins" to add on to Motorola or RIM phones, and has announced a partner programme to encourage others to sign up to its version of wireless power.

It all looks a lot like the early days of too many other technologies.

This story, "Wireless power sputters on" was originally published by Techworld.com.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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