Wireless Charger to debut with Palm Pre!

While Palm plans a return to relevance in the technology world with its upcoming Palm Pre smart phone, the device is not the only hot-shot product the company is launching in the next month.

Palm will be the first major phonemaker to integrate wireless charging into its products with the release of the Touchstone, an accessory charging pad for the Palm Pre. The move is poised to usher in an era of wireless charging and bring attention to a technology that is ready for takeoff.

Wireless charging has been with us for years – think of electric toothbrushes that rest on chargers with no wires connecting them. The charging happens through magnetic induction.

An alternating current in a coil embedded in a charging pad generates a magnetic field which induces a voltage in the device’s coil, supplying energy to the device’s battery.

The process, which can reach across several inches, is safe for users but sacrifices about 10 to 15 percent of efficiency compared to a wired solution. But for end users, the benefit is easy charging for varied gadgets on one pad without the tangle of wires. The idea is to create wide standardized pads that can charge a handful of devices at one time and be built into homes, offices and other environments.

“The potential for wireless charging is tremendous,” said NPD analyst Ross Rubin. “Virtually any surface could be turned into a charging pad – a whole desk, a conference room or walls. It could really usher in a whole new level of convenience and extension of battery life as products are charged passively.”

Palm’s implementation initially will work with only one device, the Pre. But the system will serve as a lesson for many consumers and electronics companies about the benefits of wireless charging.

Consumers can recharge a Pre by placing it on the Touchstone, a small charger shaped like a puck that holds the device in place with magnets. The device can tell when it’s being charged and will offer a speaker phone option for incoming calls. Pick up the phone and the phone converts it to a regular call.

Scott Eisenstein, vice president of marketing for wireless charger Powermat, said he’s excited by Touchstone, which validates the progress made by Powermat and others in the field. Later this year, the Israel-based company is releasing a range of charging pads that can support up to six devices charging at the same rate.

Users will need to equip their phones, MP3 players and laptops with cases, adhesive discs or dongles that can communicate with the pad and draw power. But when they do, they can enjoy an easy charging process for their devices that does away with proprietary cords.

In the future, homes could be built with embedded pads, letting homeowners put lamps, TVs and other appliances anywhere without regard to sockets. Even electric cars could eventually be recharged in this manner.

“That’s the future, an environment without wires where power is at your finger tips,” Eisenstein said.

To achieve its full potential, early advocates agree that wireless charging will have to be built into gadgets without the need for a case or dongle. A handful of technology companies including Texas Instruments, Sanyo, Phillips and Olympus last year formed the Wireless Power Consortium with the goal of developing a technology standard for magnetic induction, which they hope will convince other device manufacturers to take the plunge. The group hopes to have the standard set later this year with embedded products hitting shelves by next year.

Texas Instruments and Fulton Innovation, are working together to shrink the necessary components for magnetic induction so devicemakers can easily and cheaply include the option for wireless charging in devices.

“If you can get a standard, that enables everything from furniture and infrastructure all the way to handheld devices and beyond,” said Dave Baarman, director of advanced technologies for Fulton Innovation. “There are a lot opportunities for where we charge, how we charge and how we use our devices.”

Menno Treffers, chairman of the Wireless Power Consortium and senior director of standardization at Philips Electronics, said wireless charging also provides environmental benefits. He said consolidating charging for multiple devices on one pad can eliminate the need for separate chargers which often draw standby power when plugged in. A wireless charging pad, however, can be built to enable the flow of electricity only when it recognizes a compatible device.

“It replaces several wall cords and the overall system efficiency goes up,” said Treffers. “You actually save power.”

He said wireless power won’t replace wired chargers anytime soon. But it gives people a convenient option and a glimpse of a much less wired world.

“Right now, we’re always fiddling with wires,” he said. “We want to get rid of that.”

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~ by Travis on 05/10/2009.

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