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Support grows for universal power adapter

James Niccolai | June 17, 2008
Consumer electronics maker Westinghouse to use "smart power" technology that lets people use a single "universal adapter" to power their laptops, cell phones and other electronics gear.

SAN FRANCISCO, 17 JUNE 2008 A technology that could help the environment by eliminating the need to ship a power adapter with every electronics device got a vote of confidence from consumer electronics maker Westinghouse Digital Electronics LLC.

Westinghouse on Friday (13 June) said it had committed to using a "smart power" technology developed by start-up Green Plug Inc. that aims to let people use a single "universal adapter" to power their laptops, cell phones and other electronics gear.

Most products today ship with a custom adapter that converts AC power from a wall socket into the correct DC power required for each device. Green Plug's technology allows each device to communicate its individual power requirements to the power adapter, allowing several devices to share one adapter.

The technology's success depends partly on getting support from electronics manufacturers, which will need to embed Green Plug's firmware into their devices so they can send their power requirements to the adapter. That's why Westinghouse's support is significant.

"We know we're not the largest [electronics company], but we are the first, and somebody has to be first," said Darwin Chang, chief technology officer of Westinghouse Digital, which makes LCD televisions, computer monitors and digital photo frames.

Besides helping the environment, the Green Plug technology will also help Westinghouse to cut its costs, Chang said. Eventually, it could stop shipping power adapters with its products because customers will already have a universal adapter at home, he said.

Each adapter will act like a hub that several devices can plug into. The first are expected to go on sale in the first quarter next year for under US$100, Chang said. The adapters will also shut off the power supply when a device has finished charging or is turned off, providing further energy savings.

Whither Other Vendors?

It remains to be seen whether other electronics vendors will follow suit. Green Plug also needs semiconductor makers to build its technology into chips that will go into the universal adapters. Green Plug CEO Frank Paniagua said his company has one chip maker on board, though he wouldn't say which it is.

Westinghouse made its announcement at the second meeting of the Alliance for Universal Power Supplies, a group comprising electronics vendors, power-supply makers, utility companies and others promoting standard power systems to reduce e-waste and inefficiency. The meeting in San Francisco was attended by representatives from Fujitsu, Motorola, Intel and Broadcom, among others.

The stakes for the environment are high. More than 3 billion power adapters will be shipped worldwide this year, up from 2.2 billion just three years ago, according to Greg Lefebre, a telecommunications consultant at ESS. The growth has been driven by the proliferation of devices such as cell phones, MP3 players and digital cameras.


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