One cord for many devices: A dream or pipe dream?

IEEE launches effort to develop universal power adapters for laptops, tablets and netbooks

A CORD TO THE WISE. Of all the waste generated by the use of information technology, among the most prevalent and, theoretically, preventable are power adapters.

Buy a type of new laptop PC, get a new cord. Switch to a new phone, get a new charger. What happens to the old one? You can hang onto it for a while, but it will never get used. Eventually, it goes into the trash.

Is that necessary? Shouldn’t power adapters be universal, like extension cords, at least for similar products?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has gotten behind the idea, recently announcing an effort to develop a standard that would establish universal power supply units for laptops, tablets and netbooks, according to a report in Digitimes. And Taiwan-based Acer and Asus, two of the largest laptop makers, recently joined other manufacturers in announcing their support.

It’s a long way off, of course — IEEE has also been working for years on  a universal adapter for handheld devices. One of the problems is developing an adapter that can handle varying power requirements of multiple devices. And it’s likely to meet resistance from makers of existing power adapters, which would lose a lot of business unless they can offset their losses by charging more for a higher-quality, universal adapter.

But if successful, the effort could prevent a lot of waste. IDC estimates that 47.5 million laptops will be sold this year, which roughly translates to about 81,000 miles of power cords to go with them. And it would make life a lot easier for anyone who uses mobile devices. Imagine: One cord to fit all mobile PCs, one cord to fit all phones and handhelds. It might be a pipe dream, but the dream lives.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

Reader Comments

Mon, Jul 26, 2010

I keep a crate out back, of obsolete and orphan wall warts. They often get a second life powering a different device where the original power supply died, or came up missing (like for a device purchased at a garage sale.) For people that don't want to keep a collection, Goodwill and similar are happy to take them. Not everyone has new and shiny hardware- for those of us lower on the food chain, Spare Parts are always useful.

Mon, Jul 19, 2010

I hope they can manage to make cords a standard, however, I have my doubts that they'll be able to do it. When you buy a new phone, the company then gets to sell you at least a new car charger, and often a second house charger as well. The amount of money they make off of those additional pieces of equipment is huge. Much as I'd like to see something like this happen, I just don't see the business world being willing to give up the cash cow they've got going.

Mon, Jul 19, 2010

Great idea, but lots of luck on working out all the problems. Where can I send all my old adapters when I can't remember what they were for?

Mon, Jul 19, 2010

Great idea, but lots of luck on working out all the problems. Where can I send all my old adapters when I can't remember what they were for?

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above