You can use them while jogging, take them into the woods or ride with them on the open sea, but portable gadgets still need to head back to base every time their batteries need recharging. The power cord remains the final connection to the wired world for many devices now that technologies like Bluetooth are replacing data cables — but it too might be going away if a U.K. start-up gets its way.
Splashpower Ltd., established as the result of a business competition at Cambridge University, has developed a wireless charging system that uses electromagnetic induction to accomplish wireless charging of devices.
“It’s basically the concept of creating a magnetic field that goes parallel to the surface of the pad rather than out of the pad and this has many benefits,” said Lily Cheng, chief executive officer and cofounder of the company, speaking at a news conference. “It enables us to deliver a very uniform output across the pad and enables us to make a receiver coil that is very thin.”
At last week’s Ceatec Japan 2005 exhibition, the company demonstrated the system in use and showed two prototype charging pads, or Splash Pads as the company is calling them. One was large enough to accommodate several devices and the other was smaller and offered enough space for a single device.
To pick up the power field, gadgets must have a receiver coil built into them or have an adapter clipped on the back. At Ceatec the company showed a clip-on adapter for an iPod mini music player, and a Nokia cell phone with a built-in coil. Both devices, when placed on the pads, began charging.
In addition to the coil there’s also a regulator, which adjusts the amount of power being supplied to the device so the battery charges correctly. By fitting the regulator into each device, a number of gadgets with different power requirements can be charged simultaneously.
Splashpower has big plans for its system. In addition to Splash Pads for the home, the company is talking to auto makers about building pads into cars, and is also in talks with hotel chains interested in building the pads into furniture in rooms, said Cheng. However, the company faces a chicken-and-egg situation in getting the pads widely deployed — with no compatible devices, who is going to use the pads?
It’s probably the biggest problem facing the company today, said Michiaki Tsurumi, a member of the company’s board of directors and until last year president of Sony Corp.’s European operations.
“Cell phone makers feel that if the infrastructure is there they would like to put the technology in the handset, but the infrastructure is not there so they don’t want to,” he said.
Initially the company will start by selling Splash Pads and a range of adapters in the U.K. and Europe in mid-2006, said Cheng. Following the European launch, the company will turn its attention to other markets. It expects the larger charging pad will cost US$150 to $200, the smaller pad will cost between $30 and $40 and adapters will cost about $15 to $20 per device.
“Ultimately the technology has been designed for the mass consumer market, so in the future it will be possible to price it as a mass-consumer price,” said Cheng.