Electronic Design

Putting All Your Power Adapters In One Basket

Welcome to this year’s edition of Electronic Design’s One Powerful Issue. In trying to decide what my contribution might be, I needed to look no further than my desk at home. Sitting on it are power adapters for a cell phone, PDA, Bluetooth headset, and notebook PC. This has become almost unmanageable for me, not to mention unsightly, since the cords run all over the desk and down the side to a power strip on the floor. What a mess.

To make things look a little better, I decided to put a basket on the side of the desk near the wall, run the wires through it, and dump all my electronic gadgets into it—except for the notebook, of course. This has cleaned up the mess on the desk a bit, if you don’t look into the basket.

So what’s to be done about all these adapters? Is anybody working on a reasonable solution? Of course. While in Las Vegas for January’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I met with Gus Pabon, chief technology officer of Green Plug (www.greenplug.us).

The company’s motto is “One Plug—One Planet.” Green Plug is the developer of Greentalk, which is a secure, digital protocol for realtime collaboration between devices that need power and their power sources. Gus showed me an adapter hub that simultaneously powers multiple devices, each with its own energy demand (see the figure).

When devices collaborate with power supplies, an unprecedented amount of monitoring, control, and optimization becomes possible. Green Plug isn’t selling this hub. Instead, it is selling the Greentalk protocol embedded in a microcontroller called the Universal Power Protocol chip, as well as a reference design with up to eight ports.

The company makes the point that every ac-powered device uses a common cable and connector, at least on a country-wide basis, so dc-powered devices should, too. Green Plug’s candidate is the USB connector.

Unmodified, standard USB cables can be used to connect Green Plug-enabled power supplies to low-power devices that get power over their USB connectors, usually the mini or micro type. But since USB provides for low power only, Green Plug has extended the connector so high-power devices can use the universal connector for power as well.

After its stop at International CES, the Green Plug contingent went to DEMO 08, the exclusive conference for emerging technology held at the end of January in Palm Desert, Calif. At the conference, the company announced that it had received a Series A investment from Peninsula Equity Partners of Menlo Park, Calif.

Among other goals, Green Plug plans to use the investment to help secure partnerships with OEMs that will bring to market intelligent Green Plug-enabled dc-power charging hubs. Greg Robinson, managing director of Peninsula Equity Partners, thinks Green Plug’s intellectual property represents an enormous breakthrough. I concur.

At the conference, Green Plug CEO Frank Paniagua Jr. was named a DEMOgod. This divine title is awarded for expertise in positioning a product in the marketplace, articulating its most distinctive features, differentiating it from other technologies, and entertaining a discerning and critical DEMO audience—all within six minutes.

“People understand that the power model is broken and that it’s fixable—that there’s utterly no need to manufacture 3.2 billion external power supplies every year,” Paniagua said. “The prospect of a global standard around Green Plug technology is beginning to invigorate the industry and the public, as we aim toward our partners delivering the first Green Plug-enabled products by the 2008 Christmas buying season.” To check out Paniagua in action at DEMO 08, visit www.demo.com.

Green Plug advanced one further thought that makes a lot of sense to me. An adapter hub will eventually minimize solid waste from obsolete chargers.

I have way too many obsolete chargers in my possession, but never feel quite right about tossing them out—even if I’m giving them to a recycling outfit. It would be nice to eliminate this problem in the future and to eventually be able to replace the basket on my desk with one sleek adapter hub.

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