Electronic Design

Engineer Seeks Cure For Common Wall Warts

With the mass proliferation of mobile devices and various computer and homeentertainment peripherals, most of us suffer from a bad case of wall warts.

Doug Palmer, a principal development engineer at the San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), uses the phrase “wall warts” to describe the plethora of external power supplies that vie for position in his and our wall sockets and power strips (Fig. 1). Depending on the number of these supplies in play, one’s affliction can range from mild to severe.

A POWER ADAPTER FOR ALL REASONS
Palmer’s Universal Power Adapter, dubbed the uPower or UPA, would be compatible with and perform as a single power source for a wide variety of devices, providing only the exact voltage each requires. Currently in the first stages of designing a prototype, he is shooting for a smart replacement for transformers and adapters that will supply both power and communications to consumer electronics (Fig. 2).

In theory, components interfacing with the UPA employ low-data-rate communications to inform the adapter what voltage levels they require. Upon receiving requests, the adapter supplies the precise voltage each component needs, resulting in more efficient use of power.

Another unique feature of the adapter is its smart design. Hooked into the power line, it will be able to compensate during power outages to perform non-peak charging functions as well as transfer power between connected devices based on necessity. For example, should the user have a fully charged media player and a depleted cell phone online, the UPA can use the media player to charge the phone.

ON THE GREEN SIDE
Like all power products, one important goal is efficiency. As per Palmer, the UPA makes powering electronic devices more efficient since it provides only the voltages needed—no more, no less. This translates into more green in the wallets of consumers after paying their electric bills.

Notably, the adapter will be able to accept a solar-power input. Theoretically, users may be able to get their rechargeable products off the power grid entirely by using inexpensive solar panels to deliver power to the UPA, creating a sort of nano grid. Again, this means more energy-cost savings.

Going a step further, Sukumar Srinivas, manager of Calit2- UCSD’s India Initiative, believes the adapter is a viable means for providing lighting in countries that don’t have any real power grid. “The way to think about it is, what are the essentials?” he asks. “Rather than solve the whole problem, our solution is practical and small. Right now, lighting is potentially the biggest application for the adapter when paired with a low-cost solar panel.”

THE FUTURE
Palmer believes there’s no limit to the types of devices his UPA may support, including hybrid vehicles. He even foresees it replacing wall outlets completely. In terms of securing funds for a prototype, he’s been in touch with Ford and Qualcomm to discuss the integration of uPower technology into their future products. “

We need to bring the people together, and through that synergy will come the funding and resources. It’s the generation that hasn’t been born yet who will go nuts for this,” Palmer says. Hopefully, today’s wall-wart sufferers won’t have to wait that long. For additional information, contact Palmer at [email protected].

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