Thursday, February 10, 2005

Battery chargers

We are getting ready to go to Disney World. We pack all the usual stuff -- clothes, shoes, diapers, a few books to read on the plane. But in this day and age we also need to think about the electronics. And we have to think hard about them, because it's not just one or two things anymore. Here's what we are planning to take:
  • Leigh's cell phone
  • My cell phone
  • Leigh's digital camera
  • David's digital camera
  • Irena's digital camera
  • Camcorder
  • PDA
  • Laptop
  • GPS
  • MP3 player
  • CD player
  • Electric razor
I could imagine taking the little portable DVD player for the kids on the plane, but we will probably skip it.

I shudder to think what this manifest will look like when all four kids are teenagers...

Many electronic devices today require that you bring a charger. They have lithium ion or NiMH batteries built in, so you don't have a choice about the charger. This is where we get to the part that is so sad.

Look at the picture on the upper right and you can see the problem. Devices with rechargeable batteries have absolutely no standardization for the charger. In the photo, from top to bottom, what you see are the plugs for the razor, the laptop, the camcorder, Leigh's cell phone, Leigh's digital camera, my cell phone and the PDA. And as you can see, these plugs are all entirely different. It really looks as though manufacturers are trying to come up with plugs that are as bizarre as possible. The camcorder, the digital camera and the laptop all come from Sony, and not even within a single company can they agree on a standard! One Sony plug is cylindrical, one is square and one is rectangular.

And then each of those plugs attaches to a completely non-standardized wall wart or power brick. Here are the six that I will be carrying on this trip:

David's and Irena's cameras both use rechargeable AA batteries, which we will abandon so we don't have to carry the chargers (we'll use normal alkaline batteries instead). We'll also leave the car chargers for the cell phones at home.

Let me state the obvious: THIS IS NUTS! This is now, officially, nuts.

The thing that makes this so sad is fact that this problem is so easily solved. All that we need to do is agree on a standard plug size, and then agree on a standard voltage (most likely 12 volts), and then let all of the devices conform to the standard. In the same way that there is a standard 120 volt socket in the wall, there can be a standard 12 volt socket (probably two) built into every standard wall outlet. Three or four of the same little sockets can come as standard equipment in every car. It is easy to imagine power hubs in the same way that we have USB hubs today. The power cords would all be standardized around the standard 12-volt plug size and would look like this:

No more power bricks and wall warts. No more plugging-into-the-cigarette-lighter in the car. No more non-standard plugs. In the short term, this kind of standardization is long overdue.

In the 2050 time frame, it is easy to imagine that either:
  1. Batteries last a year or more between recharging, so the idea of a charger is nearly a moot point, or
  2. We have done away with wires. Some sort of inductive charging system is built into the surface of the wall and devices get their power wirelessly whenever you are in a room.
No matter what, it is certain that the way we do it today is nuts. People in the future will look back at this period in the evolution of electronics in the same way that we look back at gas lights and candles -- primitive in the extreme.



At 10:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the short term, you can use one of the products offered by iGo. I just started using the EverywherePower 7500, which I can use to charge my laptop, phone, digital camera, and iPod - all using their patented interchangeable tips. It can power a laptop and one other portable device at the same time, and includes a car/airplane adapter. The biggest drawback is the weight of the 90 watt power brick.. quite heavy.

At 1:25 AM, Blogger John Peterson said...

...manufacturers are trying to come up with plugs that are as bizarre as possible.They are. So you don't fry a device by plugging in the wrong cable.

The real problem here is portable storage of electricity. Perhaps by 2050 we'll have fuel cell powered gizmos where you just pop in a tiny hydrogen cartridge every month or so. Or maybe something like your N-Carsolution, where the power comes with the gadget and lasts the lifetime of the device.

At 8:18 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

There is a solution to this which you can implement yourself although it has the drawback of expense.

Buy yourself a universal charger which can be used with any type of rechargable battery (NiCd, NiMH, LiMn, LiPo, SLA, etc). The prices of these currently start at around $100 but is now falling. Also buy as many small plug/socket sets as you have charging cords plus a socket for the charger's charging lead. Cut all your power cords in half and fit each with a plug and socket so that if necessary you can use the lead with the original charger. Now fit a socket to the charger's charging lead. Now all you need to carry is the universal charger and the appliance end of each appliance's charging cord. You can leave all the wall warts and the like at home. When you wish to charge an appliance then connect it to the universal charger. With the cheaper chargers you will usually have to specify to it the type of battery; the more expensive ones can work this out for themselves. The charger does all the rest.

At 3:03 AM, Blogger Feroz said...

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