Feature Design Cycle Energy CP-AL/CP-AH/CP-AH
[ 2010.11.15 up ]

Turn over a new leaf with the right power supply

Ever use a rechargeable power supply as an extra source of power for mobile devices? After introducing this use of rechargeable batteries a few years ago, the groundbreaking CP-3H2K portable power supply/battery charger was recently updated as the CP-AL. Now modular and featuring device authentication, it's more portable and versatile than ever. A fresh example of Sony designers' stance and ingenuity in popularizing the eco-minded habit of reuse.

Osamu Sasago
Osamu Sasago
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Senior Producer
Arinobu Ueda
Arinobu Ueda
Sony Creativeworks
Designer
Ryo Okura
Ryo Okura
Sony Creativeworks
Designer
Minako Gemma
Minako Gemma
Sony Creativeworks
Producer and Senior Designer
Makoto Hara
Makoto Hara
Sony Creativeworks
Designer

From a constant commitment to the environment

Sasago: Sony addresses environmental issues through energy, among other initiatives. Our diverse R&D projects have focused on dye-sensitized solar cells, kinetic energy, bio-batteries, and other technologies. In design as well, whether conceptual design, product design, or communication design, we have worked to introduce these new technologies and fresh thinking in intuitive, elegant ways.

Early on, these wide-ranging efforts led to portable power supplies/battery chargers such as the CP-AL, which supplies power via USB. In fact, the CP-AL was preceded by the CP-3H2K, a multi-function portable charger released in 2007. The CP-3H2K charged AA batteries but was also equipped with a USB port. Besides using the charged batteries in other electronics, you could keep them in the charger to power mobile devices whenever or wherever needed.

Updating the CP-3H2K to the CP-AL was a good opportunity to capture people's attention as we demonstrate our environmental commitment. The product is significant not only because it's designed for reuse but because it promotes rechargeable batteries as an eco-conscious choice. We became quite interested and eager about the project, and as a result, the CP-AL shows discerning design to an extent that's rare in battery products.

To encourage more people to use rechargeable batteries, the unit had to be able to power a range of mobile devices. Authenticating devices it's connected to was an idea proposed by our design team. Although many devices can be charged via USB, charging methods and current values actually vary by device. USB charging often requires devices to be connected to a computer, and some devices must communicate with the computer during charging.

Sony CycleEnergy products meet this requirement with built-in authentication, so they can communicate with connected devices. This distinguishes the CycleEnergy series from chargers that merely include a USB port, and it enables you to use them with many devices.

Our last challenge to overcome was the size. Mobile devices are smaller and slimmer than ever, and no one wants to carry around an extra power supply that's much larger. In our design team, there was no question that we had to make the new unit more compact.

Modular design, a solution for smaller devices

Ueda: A noteworthy specification update for the CP-AL was the move from regular rechargeable AA NiMH batteries to an integrated Li-ion battery. After our engineers conducted some preliminary calculations about the size, though, we knew that making the unit too small might compromise safety, which is our first priority in battery products. Strict engineering requirements such as ample circuit pitch, shielding around the battery, and clearance for cooling make extreme miniaturization difficult.

So I thought of trying a totally different approach. The CP-3H2K was an all-in-one unit-one complete unit used to charge batteries or power mobile devices. If we could split off the spare power supply into a separate, more portable unit, it would surely be more compact while still satisfying needs in an extra power supply for the day. On business trips or vacations, you could simply toss both the charging module and the USB power supply module in a bag.

This was the inspiration for the unit's modular structure, with separate modules for charging and powering other devices via USB. Still, a modular battery product was unprecedented, even for Sony. We had to be very careful about the connection between modules, which had to fit together securely but be easy to disconnect. To strike a delicate balance in this regard, I worked with product planners and engineers to distill the essence of the mechanism we sought-how the modules fit together and even how it feels and sounds when you connect them.

Meanwhile, I was also considering the basic shapes to convey this new concept clearly. With the CP-AL, it's difficult to describe in words alone what makes the unit convenient and how you use it. To make it immediately clear that the unit is composed of both a charging module and a USB power supply module, instead of looking like a single block split into two pieces, it looks like two discrete blocks joined by a central band. Our choice emphasizes the unit's modularity, making it intuitive and visually obvious that the modules are designed to be connected and disconnected.

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