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Go (away) Chargers!

The best technologies at CES aren’t always the flashiest (sorry all you 100-inch-plus TV makers, I only have a 10-foot by 12-foot family room). It’s the most practical technologies that appeal to me. This year’s International CES introduced me to a technology that could only change my life in a positive way: wireless charging.

My wife and I have on our kitchen counter a wicker basket full of chargers. Between us we have two cellphones, two Bluetooth headsets, two digital cameras, a video camera, an iPod and a notebook computer. Each of these devices uses a different charger or dock with a different tip, including the two slightly different model cellphones made by the same manufacturer. Most evenings it’s like wrestling spaghetti trying to pull out the correct charger cable. It’s frustrating enough that we both bought car chargers for our phones, to alleviate some of the tangle. I took that a step further and bought a car charger for my iPod. I also have a portable charger in my office, courtesy of the nice folks at iGo.

That’s 13 chargers. Anyone else see a need here?

Thankfully, two innovative companies at CES, Wildcharge and Fulton Innovations, felt my pain. Both demonstrated wireless power technology that can be used to charge multiple portable devices using a single charging pad. You place any or all of your devices on the pad and through the science of inductive coupling, which is simply the transfer of energy from one circuit component to another through a shared electromagnetic field, the devices begin charging automatically.

Wildcharge will be first to market when their flexible charging pads become available by the summer. The pads will come in two versions, a 90-watt that can charge notebooks and larger portable devices, and a 15-watt for cellphones and MP3 players. The pads can be rolled up for storage. The Wildcharge system does require the use of specific device adapters that will attach to the device to make it compatible. It eliminates the spaghetti of wires but it still requires a basket full of tips. But that’s a much smaller basket to deal with.

Fulton’s eCoupled system intrigued me much more because it eliminates the need for individual adapters. Fulton is in discussions with CE device manufacturers to include the technology in future products. The company already has deals in place with companies such as Visteon and Motorola. eCoupled uses a base charging system that can be a portable pad or could be built into design forms like bowls or cup holders, or even countertops, desk drawers or bags and briefcases. The company sees the technology being used for not only portable CE devices but also medical devices, kitchen appliances and power tools. The first generation of eCoupled compatible CE products will probably show up at next year’s CES, maybe sooner.

I’m counting the days until I can chuck that basket for good.