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Cutting Your Cords - Without Wi-Fi

Wireless Power

Let's face it: cables and power cords tie you down. No matter how small and sleek your device, plugging in the power cord and a connecting cable turns it into a brick that's tied to the wall and your PC. Wi-Fi isn't the answer for many gadgets, because it uses too much power and gets too complicated if you're dealing with a secure network. Bluetooth, Wireless USB and other UWB connections, even infrared can be a better solution. This year we're seeing a lot more devices that use wireless, not just for transferring files back to your PC, but for connecting peripherals, playing music, sending TV around the house and even charging your devices. These are the wireless technologies to watch in 2007.

First Visteon will sell a wireless charging adapter for your car's cupholder...

Wireless power isn't as much like a death ray as it sounds: you still have to take your device close to the charger. But instead of plugging in a cable - and needing a different power supply for almost every device you carry - you drop your gadget onto a charging surface. Visteon is putting the eCoupled wireless charging technology into cars; initially it's an add-on that fits into a cup holder, so there are still cables involved. You plug the charger in once, though, and then just drop your phone, camera or media player into position, instead of fiddling around with the cable every time.

...and in the future, car manufacturers and rental car companies could build a charging cubby into the vehicle.

Visteon expects to produce charging cubbies that will be an option when you buy a new car, into which you can fit one or two devices. That's made more likely because the eCoupled system is based on technology already in use in water treatment systems, so it scales up to provide a higher wattage if needed. This means it could also be used to transfer power to systems within the car itself. The technology is almost as efficient as plugging in, Visteon claims, but won't damage items you accidentally put on the charging surface (like a credit card).

Herman Miller is also licensing the system to build into desks, so you can put your phone down on the desk and it starts charging, then stops when the battery has full power. Motorola is the first device manufacturer to sign up; initially the charging adapter will be in an extended battery pack, but it will be built into some phones in the future. Mobility Electronics - which produces the iGo universal power supply that already charges some 2700 devices if you buy the right tip - also plans an eCoupled adapter, which should mean that you won't need to buy a new phone or PDA just to get wireless charging.

The eCoupled system is a more efficient version of the induction charging that powers your electric toothbrush. WildCharge uses a different system that the company won't disclose, but the WildCharger is a wireless charging mat onto which you can put several devices to charge. The $40 WildCharger Mini puts out 15 W of power, enough to charge a phone, PDA, MP3 player and digital camera at the same time; if you want to charge a laptop you'd need the larger and pricier WildCharger. Expect to pay around $10 for an adapter for each device you want to charge.

Visteon and WildCharge will both ship products this summer; Powercast won't be shipping its wireless charging system until the end of the year, and only Philips has signed up to use it, but it really is wireless. A Powercast transmitter can beam power up to three feet away, just at very low levels. The idea is that you're always trickle charging your battery; if your device has the fingernail sized receiver in, you never run out of power while you're in range, and you have a full charge when you walk away.