Electronic Design
New Ways To Charge Up Your Mobile Devices

New Ways To Charge Up Your Mobile Devices


Call it a Sandy hangover, but I’ve been paying much more attention to power lately. In particular, I’ve been investigating useful products for charging cell phones and tablets with battery packs, fuel cells, and unconventional wall sockets.

Power In Your Pocket

The first power pack I tried is from the FatCat mPower Travel Charger series. Called PowerBar 4200, since it’s rated at 4200 mAH, it’s colorful and looks and feels like a small cell phone(see the figure). It can charge smart phones or iPods twice and handheld gaming systems up to 2.5 times.

I used it to charge my iPod Touch. If I had my Apple connector with me, I could have plugged it into the standard USB port on the PowerBar. Instead, I used a flexible connector system that comes with the product. In other words, I connected a standard Apple connector to one side of a wire and a standard USB connector to the other.

My iPod, which showed a 50% charge when I plugged it into the charger, charged to about 98% in less than 45 minutes and to 100% shortly after. To charge the PowerBar itself, you connect it either to a USB port on a computer or another power source. The PowerBar accepts a charge via a micro USB connector on its side. Charging takes four to seven hours depending on input current.

The FatCat PowerBar uses lithium-polymer battery technology. It recognizes the power needs of the device you’re charging and provides over-charging, over-discharging, over-current, and short circuit protection. It also comes pre-charged, so you can use it immediately. And since it has a lithium-polymer battery, it holds about 75% charge after one year of non-use, making it a great source of power for unexpected emergency situations.

The PowerBar 4200 has a suggested retail price of $69.95. Two other models, the 2000-mAH ChargeCard and 9600-mAH PowerBar 9600, sell for $49.95 and $119.95, respectively. They all are available at www.fatcatgear.com.

During the recent International CES, Lilliputian Systems VP of product development Alan Ludwiszewski demonstrated the nectar portable power system. This portable fuel cell uses small, replaceable butane pods to charge smart phones, tablets, and other mobile electronics.

The nectar can charge any type of consumer electronics device compatible with USB 2.0. Each nectar pod holds 55,000 mWH, which is sufficient to charge a typical smart phone at least 10 times and maybe more. When a pod runs out, you simply replace it with another one, and you’re ready to charge again.

The technology is based on Lilliputian’s Silicon Power Cell, which is manufactured by Intel. The butane fuel is fed into this solid-oxide fuel cell, which creates the power needed to charge the phone. In fact, the flexible cell can run on any number of high-energy fuels.

The nectar portable power system is expected to sell for a whopping $299, with the replaceable pods costing $9.99. When available, it will be sold through Brookstone. You can view my video interview with Ludwiszewkski at engineeringtv.com/video/nectar-Portable-Fuel-Cell-Uses.

USB In Your Electric Sockets

Finally, Cooper Wiring Devices sent me one of its USB Duplex Tamper Resistant receptacles, which are designed to replace standard ac duplex receptacles. I pulled out my old receptacle and installed this one. It’s a lot bulkier than a standard receptacle, but fits in the usual space, nevertheless—with a healthy push for my particular setup.

In addition to sockets for two three-pronged plugs, I now have two USB ports (rated at 2.1 A) for charging smart phones, tablets, and any other electronics that can be charged via USB. The neat thing about this receptacle is that wall warts are no longer necessary. The package doesn’t include a USB cable, but many wall warts now come with detachable USB cables.

The receptacle can be used for commercial and residential applications, and it’s available in 15-A and 20-A models. Tamper-resistant shutters on the ac sockets comply with 2011 NEC Article 406.12, which means they resist the insertion of foreign objects that could cause electrical shock. These receptacles are available from Web sites like www.smarthome.com for about $60.


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