Support grows for universal power adapter

A technology that could help the environment by eliminating the need to ship a power adapter with every electronics device got a vote of confidence Friday from consumer electronics maker Westinghouse Digital Electronics. Westinghouse said it had committed to using a smart power technology developed by a start-up company, Green Plug, that aims to let people use a single "universal adapter" to power their laptops, cell phones and other electronics gear.

Most products today ship with a custom adapter that converts AC power from a wall socket into the correct DC power required for each device. Green Plug's technology allows each device to communicate its individual power requirements to the power adapter, allowing several devices to share one adapter. The technology's success depends partly on getting support from electronics manufacturers, who will need to embed Green Plug's firmware into their devices so that they can send their power requirements to the adapter. That's why Westinghouse's support is significant.

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16 Comments

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This may all sound very nice but what about the size of that thing?
I don't want to drag a power brick along with me that has the size of a brick just to charge my mobile phone when I'm on vacation...

I do like the idea though (I share the same frustration as most of you have) but I'd be surprised if it ever gets to the customers...

Foo, you obviously do not work in a design environment.
It's usually Marketing who decides where the power device is placed,
not the "lazy/cheap" engineer.

I like the idea of a "universal" supply, but who decides the universal.?
Some products need to have it elsewhere, some can have it internal, space allowing.
Some have special needs, requiring special voltages/currents.
Then too, the application and the ICs used define the voltages and currents needed.

'Course if your appliance needs 2.5 volts and due to PS failure gets 25 volts, oops.!
Also adds circuitry to negotiate the request with the U-Brick.

In products which are plugged in, we use universal INPUT (100-250v) modules for power conditioning.

= Electronic product designer with 40 years of product design behind me.
Done almost all existing circuit topologies for supplies. My favorite is battery sources.
www.hunterlab.com

I thought power was a demand-based system.

If I take a 12v/10A wall-wart and plug an old 386 laptop that requires 2A into it, the wall-wart would only supply 2A. If it was a badly designed adapter, it might spit out an excessively high voltage because it EXPECTED a 10A load to drag the voltage down to 12v, but that's another kettle of fish.

I personally see no reason they couldn't make a 20A 12v power brick, with like five heads, and you could plug everything into it at once.

Really, there are only three legitimate concerns. But two of them are really the fault of lazy/cheap designers.

A) Devices that demand multiple voltages. I've seen plenty of external drive cages like that, because the +5 and +12 is generated in the brick, not on the device. No reason they couldn't slap a 7805 (voltage regulator, costs like 40 cents in quantity of ONE) on the PCB itself and use 12v only.

B) Devices with weirdass plugs. I'm also looking at MP3 players with "dock" connectors in lieu of mini-USB connectors, which are at least commonplace and replacable-if-lost.

C) Devices which don't/can't be made to work on a single standard voltage. For some reason, HP inkjet printers seem to rely on ~30v power bricks.

A) and B) are definitely fixable with better design. C) may have some occasional business case, but if it can't run on 12v, why can't it take an internal power supply instead?

Definitely would be a win for consumers, just have to get companies on board which is tough. I have hate the adapter issue for a long time and its been frustrating. "universal" adapters were great except they weren't always universal.

I'd be surprised if this ever takes off simply down to the greed of the companies. Surely its a nice earner for them selling their individual, weird-ass power supplies with unique connectors (i'm talking to you Dell) - but i'd be 100% for this. No more having to worry about whether your phone will go flat when you go somewhere, if they all use the same freaking standard EVERYWHERE.

(fergiej said @ #4.1)
I suspect no one here wants to see your junk or what's in your drawers...capisce? :suspicious:

Speak for yourself! Rawr.

they should move toward using that small usb connector like many companies already do for charging cell phones and several devices

The problem is that not all devices have the same power requirements. This scheme allows the device to specify its power profile to the adapter. Pretty clever!

(Skwerl said @ #2.1)
The problem is that not all devices have the same power requirements. This scheme allows the device to specify its power profile to the adapter. Pretty clever!

I was under the impression they could already do that over USB.

(WICKO said @ #2.2)

I was under the impression they could already do that over USB.

That can only happen if the device actually communicates with the computer, and specifies it's power profile. If it's just a device that draws power, without connecting to the PC, then it can only draw 100mA. Most USB hosts, however, ignore this and let them draw 500mA anyway.