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 a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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