updated 02:15 pm EDT, Thu March 24, 2011
Fulton Qi power tech hands-on at CTIA
Fulton Innovation had a surprisingly deep presence at the just-wrapping CTIA show this week and showed off some new technology using the universal Qi wireless power standard. This included not just LG's new wireless charging station but a rumored similar back for the Thunderbolt. Read on for a first-hand look as well as a check on Fulton's unique light-up, Qi-powered product boxes.
LG's station is primarily intended for the Revolution and accordingly gives the 4G Android phone a custom battery cover replacement to fit in the inductive charging hardware. We found it about as thick as a typical battery sled case, but comfortable; think of a Mophie Juice Pack. The design isn't nearly as attractive as the designer, metal-striped regular case, but for those using this case, appearance isn't as important as much as convenience.
Its charging station is relatively unceremonious, but clean: users just drop the Revolution on the main contact plate and are given an indicator light at the top to say whether or not the device is charging. Although it's meant for the Revolution, the use of Qi means that any device with a Qi-compatible case or adapter, like the ones Energizer makes for iPhones and BlackBerries, should work properly.
The Thunderbolt add-on is odd but deliberately minimalist. Rather than go for a smooth curve, the induction case tries to go as thin as possible and has a "hump" where the necessary contact hardware might be. We didn't find it quite as comfortable, but it also kept the already big phone's size more in check.
For many, CTIA was also an opportunity to see Fulton's eCoupled box prototypes. These use Qi along with conductive inks to light up words, logos, or other content on a cardboard box without having to supply a battery or use very expensive materials. While it can't be shown in photos, they also have a Las Vegas-like ability to alternate what's flashing. Thankfully, the charge disappears as soon as the box is off of the powered shelf.
We asked Fulton about the safety of the boxes and were given the answer that they should be foolproof. The shelf and box system would resist liquid splashes, very important for a grocery store. It further has an auto-off safety system in the event a shopper somehow touches a dangerous part of the shelf, though there was little room for danger in our check.
The wireless power could be the biggest boon for stores carrying batteries. One of the demos showed us an Energizer pack that actually recharged the batteries inside. It would keep the batteries at full charge before they're bought. Shopkeepers would also have a way to replace batteries that might have been sitting on shelves for too long: the system could change the light color if it went through too many complete cycles to be sold as new.
While the HTC and LG add-on cases should be available in the near future, the product boxes are still somewhat distant. The real challenge, Fulton said, was price. For a box, the cost has to be "cents on the dollar" and reach the economies of scale that would let even a cereal box light up with little to no premium.