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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk


Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Powered On: The Advancements in Portable Power Justin Risedorf



I dread the beep my phone makes when it’s at the end of its charge. Not because I’m uncomfortable without my phone being on at all times, but because, of course, it always seems to die right when I need it most. I’m using my phone’s navigation to drive through some unfamiliar part of town when it’s dark and rainy and I’m almost out of gas and – beep – my phone is about to die.

Or, less dramatically, I’m at the grocery store and need to call home to double check what I’m supposed to get, but, alas, my phone is dead.

At one time, an electronic without charge was rendered completely useless until reunited with its commander - the outlet. But the days of being chained to a wall plug are, for people utilizing portable power options, a thing of the past.

Portable power is exactly what it sounds like: a device that utilizes stored power or self-generated power to charge other devices. For a while, this term has applied mostly to large and bulky power packs, portable technically, but only if you felt like lugging around a 60-pound generator. But now, portable power sources come as small as a thumb drive and as cheap as a couple dollars, making them quite common among the masses. (Most commonly known as batteries.)

But people are still thinking about new ways to continue advancing portable power technology. The options available for portable power devices are numerous and can be tailored precisely to specific needs. A thumb drive sized portable charger may be sufficient for people who need to charge electronics on the go, while other people may opt for a slightly larger battery pack that can jumpstart a car.

Even these impressive portable power options, however, still require forethought. A tiny portable power source is only good if you’ve remembered to charge it, right? Well, people have found ways to make devices that require no wall plug in at all, such as devices that generate their own power or devices that run on alternative power sources. Various options besides batteries for portable power are becoming increasingly commonplace with smaller solar panels, wireless charging pads in coffee shops, and what not.

Solar panels are now available in a portable size, allowing renewable energy to be utilized in the most quotidian ways. There’s now a portable fuel cell power generator/charger that operates on lighter fluid. Still, others have made ways for people to capture the energy they’re already generating, like Siva Cycle, whose product attaches onto the wheel axle of a bike, allowing cyclers​ ​to generate and store power while they ride.

Wireless charging devices are rapidly becoming a staple in the power industry. These charging mats, which use electromagnetic induction, must simply come into close contact with your device in order to charge it. Though the mats themselves must be plugged into a power outlet, the charging mechanism makes fumbling around for power cords a thing of the past. This technology has been on the market for a while, charging anything from electric toothbrushes to medical implants, but has recently become more standard for typical consumer products, like various smartphones and the Apple Watch.

Wireless charging still has some significant flaws, such as competing standards bodies (that brings VHS vs. Betamax to mind.) The cons of the technology range from limited charging distance to high production costs but the future looks promising. Though dramatic innovation is likely years away, the idea of having long distance charging (meaning, your phone is charging in the living room but your wireless charging dock is in the kitchen) is definitely exciting.

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Justin is a contributing author who loves to read and write about the advancements of technology and robotics. When not at work, you can find him conquering Risk and Catan or on an adventure with his wife and kids. Last Father's Day he received a #1 dad shirt, so now that's official.

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