Notebook charging over USB is being researched

USB-IF looking for smart power distribution

IF THERE’S ONE inherent problem the USB interface suffers from, including the latest 3.0 iteration, it’s the lack of power. At 5V and 500mA or 900mA, you can barely run an external hard drive off a USB port. But from what we were told today, the USB Implementors Forum (USB-IF) is looking at changing this in the future and has just started a research group that will look at how to drive more power over the USB interface.

It’s currently very early days in this project, but consider the following scenario. You have a notebook and you plug it into a next gen USB docking station which is part of your USB connected display, your notebook and the docking station will exchange some information as you connect the one to the other and your laptop will start charging. Wouldn’t that be a fantastic solution? Well, this is ultimately the goal of the research being done by the USB-IF, but sadly there’s no timeline as to when this might happen.

The trick is to make the various USB devices smarter so that they can communicate with each other in a different way than today’s implementation. Currently, only a USB host device can charge other USB devices, but this is set to change. The intent is that any device that’s plugged into a wall socket will be able to tell other devices how much power it can deliver, and if it can deliver enough power then it will be able to charge the devices you plug into it.

This almost sounds utopian as a means of removing cable clutter, although there will of course be limitations as to how much power can be drawn from the device that is plugged in to the power socket. However, we will be seeing a lot more than 5V. In fact the above scenario was suggested to us by a representative of the USB-IF. It’s not the end of chargers, but it should lead to a reduction in the number of them that you need to have around. One charger should suffice to charge multiple devices this way, which would at least make it easier for the road warrior when it comes to the number of charges needed.

With the current trend of most mobile phones and many other devices using a mini or micro USB port for charging, we’re certain that it’s only a matter of time until we see this proposed change to the USB standard appear. With more power available over USB, devices should also charge faster, as many devices charged from a USB port today can only be trickle charged. Sometimes industry standards are pretty useful, so let’s hope this becomes one of them.S|A

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