Electronic Design

Going On Vacation? Don't Forget Your Battery Charger

I just returned from a two-week family vacation driving through Italy and Greece, exploring the roots of Western civilization. While I was on the road, I realized how power-addicted we Westerners have become, as each night's rest stop included a ritual of lithium-ion (Li-ion) charge-ups. I remembered to buy a 220- to 110-V converter before leaving on the trip. But I didn't realize that there was going to be a nightly "charging queue" with five of us in the family, each with an average of two personal electronic devices.

We developed a regular rotation for iPod and PDA top-ups, which sometimes included waking up in the middle of the night to change out devices. In retrospect, I should have brought a multi-outlet power strip and/or my power inverter to plug into the rental Renault's lighter to keep charging while driving!

The digital camera had first-charge priority each night, since photos were the one true trip essential. I bought a new camera before the trip, the Samsung NV7, picking it because I wanted a small camera with good zoom (7X optical and 5X digital) and high resolution (7.2 Mpixels). The camera has a bevy of sophisticated digital features I'm still figuring out, from advanced shake reduction to GIF animation.

The NV7 was fantastic, and its 2Gbyte SD card let me shoot close to 1200 images at 5 Mpixels— more than enough for the two-week trip. Battery life, though, was another story. Running out of juice in the middle of the Roman Forum on day two, I realized I would need to charge the camera every night. The 3.7-V Li-ion battery has a nice form factor—that is, until you place it side by side with the 2-Gbyte SD memory card and consider their relative size and functionality.

Needing to recharge a camera nightly isn't really acceptable performance. What if I were taking a Bob Pease-like trek across the backcountry of Nepal? I guess I'd have to outfit my backpack with a solar panel.

Battery life continues to be the weak link in most portable design. We seem to be in a race to add digital features at a rate surpassing Moore's Law, as new generations of consumer products debut every six months. In the meantime, battery developments move forward at a much slower rate. A New York Times "Greentech" article notes that Li-ion batteries have gained capacity at a rate of 8% to 10% a year, doubling their energy storage over the last decade.

It seems the market is ripe for some quantum leaps in portable power and and energy generation. This issue's Industry Techview story ("Nanowires Get Bent Out Of Shape For New Technology") looks at nano-piezotronic transistors that offer the possibility of harvesting energy from pressure changes, whether they come from walking, airflow, or even thermal noise. Why can't we power a gaming device or a PDA via energy harvested from all that button-pushing?

The importance of power design is one of the reasons we were so excited about the expansion of our group of publications via our merger with Prism Business Media earlier this year. Our new sister publications include Power Electronics Technology (as well as its trade show), RF Design, Auto Electronics, and Defense Electronics.

As part of the integration and expansion of Penton's Electronic Design Group, I have been named the group editorial director and will be focusing on ways to expand and improve our information products. Joe Desposito, formerly editor in chief of EEPN, is the new editor in chief of Electronic Design.

Prior to seven years at EEPN, Joe was a technology editor at Electronic Design, where he covered test & measurement, communications, and consumer electronics, reporting on industry firsts in all of these areas. Before Electronic Design, he was editor of Weka Publishing's Modern Electronics Manual and Electronics Repair Manual. And, he served as one of the original engineers on the staff at PC Magazine's PC Labs.

We also will be expanding the product and components coverage in Electronic Design with an expanded section edited by Mat Dirjish, who also joins the staff from EEPN. These changes will help ensure that you will continue to get the quality, focused editorial you need to do your job right.

You'll still be hearing from me as I'll continue to write occasional columns for Electronic Design as well as for our sister magazines. You can also look for my new blog at www.electronicdesign.com.

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