The concept of powering devices without wires may sound still sound awesomely sci-fi to many users. Today's near-field devices remain hampered by their short range and inefficiency.
For example, the wireless charger for the Dell Latitude Z works only when the laptop is placed in its stand. The charger is more efficient than most others available today, but still wastes about 30% of the electricity it uses.
Fulton Innovation LLC plans to show at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that improvements in the technology are on the horizon. The company today is demonstrating a mid-range wireless charger that would extend by several times the distance of devices like the Dell laptop charging stand. The Dell charger uses Fulton's eCoupled technology.
In a YouTube video released last week, Fulton powered a 12-watt light bulb using a transmitter placed 35 inches (nearly 3 feet) away, said Dave Baarman, director of advanced technologies at the Ada, Mich., firm.
In the YouTube video, Baarman acknowledged that efficiency remains a problem. The inductive coils transmitting the power to the 12-watt bulb had to take in 120 watts, he said. However, he noted that the unused power was diverted to simultaneously power a separate, connected 60-watt light bulb.
Also, metal can interfere with the power transmission.
Fulton also plans to demonstrate technology it is co-developing with ultra-wideband networking vendor Wionics Technologies and the JW Marriott hotel chain that would allow hotel guests to wirelessly recharge laptops or run movie DVDs on laptop drives in hotel rooms. The technology would recharge and run systems from up to 30 feet away.
So far, consumer devices using Fulton's eCoupled technology remain limited to the Dell Latitude Z charging stand and an Energizer rechargeable LED flashlight.
But Fulton said that the company is working with 24 partners, including Bosch, Herman Miller, Motorola, Texas Instruments and others on coming products. Office furniture and shelving maker, Leggett & Platt Inc., is developing office conference tables with eCoupled charging stands built in, while B/E Aerospace is developing airplane seat tray tables with charging stands built in.
Case-Mate wants to use eCoupled to turn their thin laptop and smartphone cases into rechargers, he added.
Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld . Follow Eric on Twitter @ericylai or send e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.