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Wireless power energizes CES

There's something futuristic about wireless power that has grabbed people's attention at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, and 2009 could be a big year for the technology judging from what's on show here.

A few products from Wild Charge are already on sale for recharging small devices like phones and game controllers, by laying them side by side on a charging mat. Perhaps more interesting is some of the bigger equipment on show at CES this year, including power tools and blenders.

Legget & Platt is showing a workman's van rigged out with the infrastructure for charging a drill, rotary saw and other tools. Legget showed a case of Bosch power tools that can be thrown on a charging shelf in the back of the van and powered up en route to the next appointment. The van's alternator provides the electricity. There's also a console in the front of the van for recharging a laptop, cell phone or flash light.

Legget has licensed a technology called eCoupled from Fulton Innovation. It consists of a coil of wire in the charging base and another in the device, and transmits electricity via a magnetic field. The technology, which is calls “near field induction,” has the smarts to figure out the correct voltage to supply and shuts down when charging is complete.

Legget said its kit for the van, as well as the flashlight from Energizer, will go on sale in mid-2009. But it's up to the other vendors when the rest of the devices will be available. Legget has worked out pricing with Bosch for the power tools and they too are expected this year.

The tools case will be US$500, including three eCoupled batteries that fit onto existing Bosch tools. The console with the Energizer flashlight will be $250 to $300. Other products here, including the cell phone and a blender that charges through a modified countertop, were prototypes, and Fulton is waiting for partners to come on board and sell them.

The eCoupled technology is 98 percent efficient and charges at about the same speed as a standard, wired charger, according to Leroy Johnson, Legget & Platt's senior director for emerging technologies. Legget specializes in commercial vehicles, so the technology will appear first in things like cable repair vans and police cruisers.

For consumers today, Wild Charge sells products for charging the Blackberry Pearl, Blackberry Curve and Motorola Razr, by laying them on a mat that plugs into a wall outlet. One of its licensees, Griffin International, has released an add-on for recharging a Nintendo Wii wireless controller, and is developing others for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controllers. They clip on the back where the controller's battery would go and retail for $50 to $70.

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