Packing all the right kit to keep your devices charged can be a real mission. But not if you listen to Rhodri Marsden. He took time out to select a range of gadgets for staying powered up and keeping you connected when you just have to be.
We travel more than we ever have, and carry more gadgetry than ever. It’s a symptom of the so-called ‘Internet of things’, where the number of web-connected devices vastly eclipses the number of people using it. It is estimated that 50 billion devices will be connected to the net by 2020, yet all of these ‘things’ will need to be powered. Hotels are, thankfully, happy to let us use their electricity, and airlines are installing in-seat power. But when we’re away from power sources, we’re still reliant on Mr Volta’s battery.
Fortunately, the energy efficiency of new computer models doubles every 18 months – a trend first noted in 2010 by Jonathan Koomey, consulting professor at Stanford University. At the same time, we’re demanding more from our devices.
“The fact that most new devices will be mobile means there will be a premium on energy efficiency,” Koomey says. “Super-efficient sensors scavenge power from absent light, heat, motion or stray radio and TV signals. For certain applications, we may be free of batteries.”
In the meantime, wireless induction charging is helping to rid us of cables and chargers.
“As wireless power is built into more devices and infrastructure, ‘battery anxiety’ will start to go away,” says Dave Baarman, a director at wireless power pioneers Fulton Innovation. “We won’t worry about connectors if wireless power is delivered to a universal standard.”
This year has already seen huge strides in the world of powering gadgets. In February a tile was unveiled at India’s Nanosolar event that can store solar power for a week and convert four hours of sunlight into a two-hour laptop charge. Elsewhere, the Fraunhofer Institute invented a US$400 solar skiing helmet (on sale by 2013) that has a wireless microphone and Bluetooth headset, and can charge your mobile.
Our power problems certainly provoke radical thinking. Designer Joao Paula Lammoglia recently won the Red Dot award for his AIRE mask concept – recharging devices by breathing. With great minds working on the issue, it’s easy to imagine a time when the phrase “Has anyone got a charger?” will be obsolete. Here are a few of the best products on the market to tide us over.
Skross World Adaptor Pro+
When Walter Ruffner visited the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, his frustration at being unable to find a single travel adapter anywhere in the city led him to invent this one, based on an ingenious slider system. Compact and brilliantly designed, it allows globetrotters to power their devices in more than 150 countries, regardless of the sockets they’re confronted with. It won a Red Dot design award in 2010, and wears its Swiss heritage with pride. It can handle up to 2500W of power, so is suitable for devices such as hairdryers or laptops, and if you need to charge via USB there’s another model that has a couple of handy sockets built in. Note that it is also available from amazon.co.uk for $56 as the “World Travel Adapter Three”.
Spark Tablet Case
Voltaic is a New York-based company that has blazed a trail in the field of solar backpacks, powering and recharging anything from small handheld devices to cutting-edge laptops (as long as it’s sunny, of course). This case for Apple’s iPad is one of its most recent offerings, with an 8W solar panel that’s 17% efficient. This might not sound impressive, but it is compared with competitors – five minutes in the sun will power five minutes of video playback, while ten hours of sunlight will fully charge the device (it will take longer to charge an iPad 3). It’s not cheap – about half the price of the iPad itself – but it can hold and power a range of other devices and is waterproof. Check out voltaicsystems.com for other products, including their rugged portable panels.
Idapt I1 Eco
The problem with remembering to pack the necessary chargers for multiple devices is eliminated by iDapt’s range, which works via an interchangeable tip system. Choose the connectors you need, slot them into the mother device and not only have you solved the charging problem but you’ve removed cable clutter. This eco-friendly model is made from recyclable material and has an auto-off, which shuts it down when charging is complete. Two devices can be powered simultaneously from a wall socket or via an in-car adapter.
MU Foldable Plug
In a technological world obsessed with slimness and sleekness, the British three-pronged plug is an irritating anomaly that makes cases bulge and packaging much bulkier than necessary. In 2009, Min-Kyu Choi came up with a design for a foldable USB plug that caused a viral sensation when it was showcased on the Internet – a beautiful, elegant solution to an age-old problem. Choi has spent the past three years working on bringing his product to the market, and this is the first step – a 14mm-thick foldable plug for charging USB devices. A Mu for charging laptops is promised later this year and a $48 limited-edition version is on sale at London’s Design Museum.
Spare One Phone
This unplugged, emergency mobile phone was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, and made another splash at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona a few weeks later. It’s a no-frills phone that is powered by an AA battery, but that single cell gives you ten hours of talk time, 20 hours of torch light, and retains its charge for 15 years of sitting idly on a shelf. The Spare One is being marketed as a lifeline in the event of natural disasters that knock out power for weeks at a time – but it also looks set to become essential as a standby phone that can sit in glove compartments and suitcase pockets, ready for unforeseen emergencies.
Weirdly positioned power sockets in offices and hotels lead to that common spectacle of charging gizmos either hanging down the walls, balanced on hastily rearranged pieces of furniture or left lying dangerously on the floor. This clever invention is merely a sheet of plastic that you assemble into what you might call a “gadget hammock”. It slips over the charger and rests against the wall, offering a small platform for your phone or other small device – such as an MP3 player or camera – to sit on while it gets re-juiced. When not in use, it can be stored in a slim C4 envelope.
Hyperjuice External Battery
What do you do when your laptop’s battery runs out? Many models – particularly Apple’s – no longer offer the option of hot-swapping it with a spare battery, so if you’re nowhere near a power source you’re in trouble. External batteries offer a solution – but again, products with proprietary connectors present a tricky problem. Hyperjuice has solved this for Apple devotees with a combination of a 60W battery and a two-piece ‘Magic Box’ that won a Macworld award. It involves ten minutes of DIY (cutting your existing adapter cable in two, separating the wires and inserting them into terminals inside the Magic Box), but it’s no more stressful than rewiring a plug. Once it’s done, you can charge your computer from the mains, charge the battery from the mains, or charge your computer from the battery. The company also sells a range of multi-coloured micro batteries for smaller devices. The $72 Magic Box needs to be purchased separately.
Another star of the Consumer Electronics Show, Powertrekk is the first commercial device to harness the properties of sodium silicide. When water is added to this substance it generates hydrogen gas, which is then converted into power. As a result, one tablespoon of water can provide electricity equivalent to ten hours of mobile phone battery life – but the Powertrekk can charge any device that accepts power via a 5V DC USB connection. It’s marketed at people who regularly find themselves in remote areas away from electricity, but keeping this palm-sized device in your car or luggage could be a lifesaver – and the fuel cell is considered safe enough to be allowed on-board as part of your aircraft cabin baggage. The Powertrekk is due to be launched in Europe by next month for $265, with fuel cells costing $2.50 each.
Powermat Wireless Charger
The world of chargers doesn’t generally makes jaws drop, but the Powermat has the ‘wow’ factor. Using electromagnetic induction, it charges the iPhone, some Blackberry and HTC models, and the Nintendo DS. Half of the transformer is in the mat and half in the receiver – a custom battery door in the case of the HTC, or a protective case for the iPhone. Once these are fitted, it’s simply a case of drop and charge. It’s a brilliant cordless solution, though devices will be made a little thicker and heavier. A three-station mat that folds into the size of a mobile phone costs $130.
Most hoteliers will be able to regale you with stories of the weird and wonderful things that have been left behind in hotel rooms, but these days one of the most frequently forgotten items is the charger, left sitting in a wall socket while we rush for a waiting taxi. Inventor Brian Tedesco has come up with this ‘nagging’ solution, which he has named the Perch. It sits between the power socket and your charger and starts emitting a chirping sound when you unplug the cord from your device – not stopping until you’ve also remembered to unplug the charger. Tedesco is looking to implement this technology into chargers themselves. The production prototype was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show – according to Perch’s website it will launch soon, and you can pre-order one online now.