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Wireless charging to go mainstream in 2010, maker says

Eric Lai | Sept. 30, 2009
Fulton sees wireless charging pads becoming as ubiquitous as electrical plugs

FRAMINGHAM, 30 SEPTEMBER 2009 - The company behind the new Dell Latitude Z laptop's wireless power charger predicts that its technology will go mainstream next year, with cell phones, MP3 players and Bluetooth headsets featuring the technology at the coming Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Inductive charging, which creates a small-area electro-magnetic field around devices to recharge their batteries, will be slower to emerge on other computers besides Dell Inc.'s new ultra-thin, ultra-premium business notebook, said Bret Lewis, director of Fulton Innovation LLC in Ada, Mich. He confirmed that the company is talking to a number of other PC manufacturers.

The long-term vision is for wireless charging pads to become as ubiquitous as electrical plugs are today, enabling users to place their cell phone or laptop down on any pad for quick "snack charges," Lewis said.

"You could just charge your device on a pad built into a conference room table, or on a pad you carry [and plug into the wall]," Lewis said.

On the cutting edge of the emerging wireless power industry, Fulton is a subsidiary of Alticor Inc., the parent company of direct-selling company Amway Corp.

Fulton, which employs about 25 scientists at its central Michigan headquarters, created its "eCoupled" technology several years ago as an outgrowth of research into UV (ultraviolet) -based water treatment systems, Lewis said.

Fulton is working closely with electronics maker Texas Instruments, which plans to build the charging coils for devices as well as the charging pads. The coils could be integrated into devices, which Lewis said shouldn't be much more expensive than conventional power chargers once volumes rise. Or they could embedded into the protective nylon or plastic sleeves for cellphones or MP3 players.

Fulton's technology is not used in the Palm Pre smartphone, apparently the first cell phone to offer the option of an inductive charger.

Dell said yesterday that the US$199 laptop charging stand add-on kit for its Latitude Z was 70 per cent efficient, making it better than other inductive charging systems.

Fulton's Lewis added to that, saying its technology also compares well with conventional plug-based systems, which he said also run somewhat inefficiently as the electricity travels through its circuits.

Moreover, plug-in chargers continue to seep between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of a device's normal power draw even when the devices are fully charged or turned off, Lewis said.

This well-known "vampire effect" doesn't happen with Fulton's inductive chargers, he said.

The Dell laptop's wireless charger turns off completely when an infrared-based controller signals that the battery is full or the laptop is off, Lewis said. Fulton's chargers can use other "pinging" technology to turn charging systems off.


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