Coming (un)wired: New technologies make it easier to minimize cords in the home

Coming (un)wired: New technologies make it easier to minimize cords in the home

January 24th, 2013 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

WIRELESS ELECTRICITY

Massachusetts Institute of Technology offshoot WiTricity was established in 2007 to commercialize a means of powering devices through magnetic induction rather than a wired connection. In 2008, WiTricity founder and MIT physics professor Dr. Marin Soljacic was named a MacArthur Fellow, and the company's work in inductive power was named a Top Ten Emerging Technology by Technology Review.

The same year, more than 125 companies joined together to form the Wireless Power Consortium, a group whose aim was to establish a global standard for wireless charging. Last March, Powermat Technologies left the consortium to establish Power Matters Alliance, a competing standard.

Wires. Like an infestation of rubber-skinned snakes, they're everywhere in the modern home, from the no man's land behind the entertainment center to the tangled mess under the computer.

But they don't have to be.

Since the earliest days of electricity, people continually have sought to free themselves from the tyranny of cables. From cellphones and the Sony Walkman to laptops and wireless Internet, history is rife with examples of companies successfully cutting the cord on emergent technologies, from inventor and electrical luminary Nikola Tesla, who envisioned wireless power transmission without the need for power cables or three-pronged plugs more than a century ago, to several companies that took up his quest about five years ago but are still at very early stages in the process.

While it may be years before an alternative to current electrical standards makes wires seem as outmoded as rotary telephones and floppy discs. In the meantime, cords remain a necessary evil in the home, but many devices have been developed that can help untangle the wired snarl.

OUTSIDE

• If electrical wiring isn't your thing, you can add hassle-free exterior lighting to your home with the Fulcrum Light-It (MSRP $30). A built-in sensor activates six, battery-powered LED lights when guests, wanted or unwanted, are detected up to 25 feet away within a 100-degree arc. The unit is weather proof, has adjustable angles and automatically turns off after 30 seconds without motion. www.fulcrumproducts.com

• Keep your lawn looking fresh even when on vacation or at the office with the IrrigationCaddy ICEthS1 (MSRP $180). Once connected to a network, users can remotely access this sprinkler controller via an online browser via computer, smartphone or tablet and establish and individually adjust schedules for up to 10 watering zones. www.irrigationcaddy.com

• Mailboxes are already wireless, but you can save yourself fruitless trips to check for deliveries with Hannah Products Mail Chime (MSRP $50). Attach the battery-powered sensor to the inside of the box's door and plug the receiver into an outlet up to 450 feet away. A light and sound will alert you when the carrier comes. www.mailchime.com

IN THE HOME OFFICE

• Want to know if it's worth leaving your desk to answer the door? Check your phone and see who's come calling with the Foscam FI8921W Wireless IP Camera (MSRP $85). The camera can be viewed and controlled through a web interface or a $5 smartphone app that can interface with 144 cameras at once. Additional features include 720p (high-definition) recording, email notifications when it detects motion, two-way audio and night vision. www.foscam.us

• Don't want to leave the couch to print a document? The Epson Expression Premium XP-800 Small-in-One Printer (MSRP $280) connects to your network directly or through Wi-Fi for printing from anywhere in the house on a desktop PC, laptop or a mobile device using the free Epson Connect service. www.epson.com

• Wireless keyboards have been on the market for years, but Logitech's Solar Keyboard K750 (MSRP $80) comes with a photovoltaic twist. It can charge from any light source, whether the sun or a desk lamp, and can run up to three months in total darkness. Buy it alone or in a $110 bundle with Logitech's wireless Marathon Mouse, which can run up to three years on a pair of AA batteries. www.logitech.com

IN THE LIVING ROOM

• In the past, TVs were a hub to which other devices such as set-top boxes or DVD and Blu-ray players connected. Samsung's line of Smart TVs (MSRP $2,000-$3,700), however, have built-in Wi-Fi native access to services such as Netflix, Hulu and Pandora and a growing library of apps for entertainment without the need for additional hardware. A built-in camera also allows the TV automatically to recognize a user's face and track hand movements to perform basic functions normally accomplished with a remote. www.samsung.com

• Traditionally, having a surround sound system meant finding creative ways to hide a nest of wires. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, CNET awarded its Best Home Theater and Audio Award to Vizio's S4251W (MSRP $330), a wireless 5.1 solution for 42-inch TVs consisting of a sound bar paired to a bluetooth-equipped subwoofer and rear speakers. No release date has been announced, but it is expected to release this year. www.vizio.com

• Multimedia hoarders who want to access their content library from the comfort of their couch can take advantage of 1 to 8 terabytes of wireless storage through Western Digital's My Book Live series (MSRP $180-$930). Files can be viewed at home on computers, video game console and TVs connected to a network or via a free app that turns the drives into personal cloud servers accessible anywhere there is Internet access. www.wdc.com

IN THE BEDROOM

• If you're tired of your cellphone's charging cord snaking across your night stand, Duracell offers a wire-free solution with the Powermat 24 Hour Power System (MSRP $100). Slip up to two fourth-generation iPhones or Samsung Galaxy SIIIs into the included cases, lay them on the charging mat and magnetic induction will power them without the need for wires. For additional juice throughout the day, the pack includes a portable backup battery, which also charges on the mat and includes a built in micro-USB charging cable and 30-pin Apple connector with power for four phone recharges. www.duracellpowermat.com

• Start watching "Modern Family" in the living room and pick up where you left off once you're under the covers with The Hopper by Dish Network (available on monthly plans starting at $25). Users have two terabytes of storage to divvy up between recording their favorite shows and Prime Time Anytime, which stores major network primetime content for up to eight days after broadcast, which can be streamed wirelessly to other TVs in the house. Connect an optional Sling adapter (MSRP $50) and download a free app to manage the Hopper, view stored content on mobile devices or wirelessly "fling" content from those devices to the TV. www.dish.com