Battery charging has lately taken a turn for the bizarre. Panasonic has announced that they intend to use the proprietary technology they acquired when they purchased Sanyo to make a wireless battery charger that doesn’t charge batteries. Instead, the device will charge nothing but other battery chargers.
The device will be known as the Panasonic Chargepad and is scheduled to be released in Japan on June 24th. Since the purchase of Sanyo by Panasonic, the resultant company, now united under the umbrella of Panasonic’s name, has become one of the premier manufacturers of rechargeable technology, mainly focused on providing rechargeable batteries for fuel-efficient cars. The Chargepad shows a desire by Panasonic to expand in the area of mobile electronics. The Chargepad will utilize the same basic technological principle as Sanyo’s Eneloop. Panasonic hopes that the new device will open up a new market, as well as a new way to charge batteries for cellular phones and eventually laptops and tablet PC’s.
It is a useful idea for those that are constantly on the move. The target user will be a person that is never at rest during their day, but still needs their mobile devices as they go from one place to another, never really able to stop long enough to fully charge their batteries, or even their battery chargers. The Chargepad works for these individuals because it never has to be plugged in, and works fully wirelessly.
The way this is accomplished is through the same technology that has been seen before in items like the Wildcharger or the Powermat. It is a technological marvel called Inductive Charging. The concept behind Inductive Charging is that it doesn’t require a direct current (aka conductive charging or direct coupling), but rather utilizes an inductive coil located within the device to generate an electromagnetic field. Inductive charging then uses this field to generate electricity that is then moved to the battery, or in the case of the Chargepad, the battery charger.
What makes this more useful than previous chargers is the Chargepad would not focus entirely on the battery alone. Instead, in charging the battery charger rather than charging the battery principally, the charger can be charged while the individual is in motion, keeping the battery in the device as the charger builds up its charge. The charger can transfer power to the battery more efficiently than the Chargepad could by itself, limiting the turnaround charge time for the battery once it is placed in the charger. While that doesn’t seem like an enormous loss, anyone that doesn’t have the time to alternate batteries would still be losing a charge, while with the Chargepad there would be a serious reduction in downtime between charges, because of the redundancy system in place between pad and charger, and then charger and battery. It is essentially a failsafe system.
To many westerners, the oddity of the Chargepad is the most obvious: a charger that charges chargers – which in turn charges batteries – seems asinine. At what point does this become an MC Escher drawing? What about the charger that charges the Chargepad and so on backwards? The possibility for comic surrealism is endless.
This concept probably won’t appeal to many people in the western hemisphere, as the larger land masses dictate that most individuals on the move will not be removed from their cars or outlets for heavily extended periods of time. In Japan, the idea is elegant. It takes into account that many people that conduct business in Japan are constantly on foot or public transportation, areas where charging is difficult, if not impossible. The mobile businessman is common in the hustling society, with land constraints making cars uncommon and inconvenient. For those out of the office all day, which is constantly increasing in number, they don’t have the time to charge, but need to always be in with clients, customers, or employees.
The other drawback of the Chargepad is that while induction chargers might be useful while on the run, they do not provide nearly the same level of charge that can be found from direct AC power. To achieve fast, complete charging, mobile components and batteries still need more than just a power pad. They can be charged to usability, and can keep you on the road, but the technology of induction chargers will never compare to good, old-fashioned metal on metal contact to provide the best power, especially if you want it to charge quickly. Even Electronics Warehouse, experts in the area of emergent battery technologies have found flaws in induction charging technologies. While the future might hold something greater, induction chargers are still the homely cousin of direct charging.
Currently the slated cost of the device upon release will be 8,894 to 10,511 Yen, which equates to approximately $104 to $123 AUD. The projected release in Australia is mostly dependent on sales in Japan, but it will likely have a niche release, marketed to people in heavily urbanized areas where public transportation is much more common. That is, if Panasonic decides to market it outside of Japan at all.
Currently the Chargepad only works with a few specific charger models, namely the 2,700mAh model QE-PL101-W and the 5,400mAh model QE-PL201-W. However, in the center of the Chargepad is the qi logo, an inductive charging standard that indicates the Chargepad may be useful for a much wider variety of devices in the future, and may help set the standard for future wireless devices to bring qi technology to the world.
The Chargepad is a good idea, and certainly helps anyone that likes to be unbound to their cords and wires. It is mostly a jumping off point for future uses of both inductive charging as well as qi technology which may help to allow future mobile technology to be un-tethered by wires and outlets. While charging chargers instead of charging batteries is an interesting way to go, it veers off in another direction from its Eneloop predecessors, which gives it a special edge. While it certainly might turn a few heads and raise a few eyebrows, it is doubtful that it will be the final word in mobile charging, but many chargers designed in the future will probably owe their lives to the way the Chargepad is changing the way many companies think about their batteries.
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