New Green Plug Universal Adapters

The California based Company Green Plug has developed a single universal adapter that enables users to power their laptops, cell phones, and other electronic gear with only one power adapter. This technology could help the environment by eliminating the need to create and ship a power adapter with every electronic device. Consumer electronics maker Westinghouse Digital Electronics LLC has given the thumbs up to this venture and has recently announced its commitment to using the new “smart power” technology.

Green Plug chip (Credit: Green Plug)
Green Plug chip (Credit: Green Plug)

Presently, most devices are shipped with a custom adapter that converts AC power from a wall socket into the accepted DC power required for each device. The development of the Green Plug power adapter allows a device to communicate its specific power requirements to the power adapter, permitting several devices to share one adapter. The adapters will also shut off the power supply when a device has finished charging or is turned off, providing further energy savings to consumers as well as being more environmentally friendly.

The technology works with adapters acting like a hub which several devices can plug into. To achieve this, it is necessary to embed Green Plug’s firmware into devices so that they are capable of sending their power requirements to the adapter. Therefore, it is essential that the company obtains the support from electronics manufacturers to make the technology a success.

It is still unclear whether electronics vendors will follow suit and support Green Plug’s project. Green Plug CEO Frank Paniagua said that they needed semiconductor makers to build their technology into chips that will go into the universal adapters.

Green Plug offers its firmware to electronics makers for free so they can make their devices support its power specification, and it hopes to make money by licensing the technology to chip makers. The cost to vendors to include the technology in each device will be about $2, Paniagua said.

Hybrid USB Universal Connector up to 24V (Credit: Green Plug)
Hybrid USB Universal
Connector up to 24V (Credit: Green Plug)

Besides helping the environment, Green Plug’s technology will also help Westinghouse cut costs. Eventually, it could stop shipping power adapters with its products because customers will already have a universal adapter at home, he said. The first Green Plug adapters are expected to go on sale in the first quarter of next year for under $100.

The stakes for the environment are high. More than 3 billion power adapters will be shipped worldwide this year, up from 2.2 billion just three years ago, according to Greg Lefebre, a telecommunications consultant at ESS. The growth has been driven by the proliferation of devices such as cell phones, MP3 players, and digital cameras.

An incredible 434 million consumer electronics devices are disposed of in the U.S. each year; this includes a million cell phones, said Lefebre. In most cases, these devices, along with their chargers and power adapters, will end up in landfills.

Inevitably, there are weaknesses in this mission too. Motorola Ventures investment manager Code Cubitt recently said that product managers are fixated on providing a good “out of the box” experience. If the company ships a product without an adapter and the consumer does not have a universal adapter at home, it can create a bad impression of the company.

The Chinese government has regulated that all cell phone chargers, including those imported, have a standard USB interface and output voltage. For the almost 500 million cell phones were manufactured last year, it would not be necessary for those Chinese consumers to buy a new one with every new phone. Nevertheless, such regulations are unlikely to be implemented in the U.S.; but if the industries do not work together, the federal government may start to intervene in some way.

TFOT has covered several green technologies including solar cells of the future, a crystalline material called nano flakes used to create more efficient solar panels, converting almost twice the amount of solar energy into electricity. You can also check out our article about sugar powered batteries developed by Sony that generate electricity from carbohydrates (sugar). By combining 4 battery units, the supplied power is sufficient to operate a typical MP3 player or cell phone. TFOT has also written about the generator with no batteries, a practical “vibration harvesting” microgenerator capable of generating electric power using the natural vibrations that surround it.

Further information on Green Plug can be obtained at the Green Plug website.

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