The Universal Charger for Just About Any Gadget Battery

By Alexis C. Madrigal

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ASPEN -- If you can pry the lithium ion battery out of your device, you can probably charge it with Fenix International's noteworthy USB charger. And you won't need an annoying adapter, either.

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The company developed the charger for use in Uganda and other developing world countries. It's part of a whole suite of products Fenix designed to help local people to become one-stop electricity providers. But you can use it yourself, too. At the bottom of this post, you can see the Fenix charging my Canon G11 camera battery.

Here's how the device works. Instead of using some proprietary cord conversion system, the charger just has little contacts that can clip onto almost any Li-Ion battery.

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Doing away with all of the cords allows an entrepreneur in any place where mobile devices are abundant but power is scarce to be sure that he or she can charge most phones without carrying around a ton of little adapters.

The charger can plug into any computer or USB wall adapter, but Fenix designed it specifically to be plugged into the ReadySet, an all-in-one "intelligent battery" that can take in power from a variety of sources (bicycle generator, solar, the grid), store and smooth it, then spit it back out to charge phones or other appliances.

Fenix CEO Mike Lin has been working on designing new products for the developing world for years. I first ran into him in San Francisco, when he was working for Potenco on a pull-cord power generator. Here in Aspen, he's carrying around the ReadySet and his chargers in his bag, where they combine to make a pretty effective demonstration of his vision for mobile power entrepreneurship in the developing world.

What might be more fascinating about the new charger, though, is that it's a clear example of how technology designed for the "bottom of the pyramid" can bounce back to the developed world as a cheap and easy solution. As more and more entrepreneurs start to focus their efforts outside the OECD countries, I think we're due for a lot more of this kind of cross-pollination. Keep an eye out for the Fenix, as it should be going to retail stores in the U.S. this year.

The one downside to the Fenix charger is that it requires you to pull the battery out of your gadget to charge it, which means that you can't use it with your iPhone.

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What's your big idea? I'm wandering around Aspen looking for the most interesting ideas. Feel free to stop or tweet your ideas to @alexismadrigal.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/06/the-universal-charger-for-just-about-any-gadget-battery/241225/