Authenticating wall socket could charge for power

Power leeches are pretty common these days. Airports and coffee shops seem to be their natural habitats, but they can be found anywhere there’s an open wall socket. Even when chairs are available, this breed seems to prefer sitting on the floor, usually with at least one power cable strung across a high-traffic area just waiting to trip a passerby.

I’ve often wondered what businesses think of these freeloaders, of which I am admittedly one. Like free Wi-Fi, unused power outlets are sure to attract customers toting laptops and other gadgets, which no doubt leads to inflated power bills at the end of the month. That might be about to change. While reading The Verge this morning, I noticed that Sony has developed an authenticating power outlet that could allow establishments to charge leechers for, er, charging.

Since power is relatively cheap, users shouldn’t have to shell out too much to top up their electronics devices. There’s the potential for gouging, of course, but widespread adoption could make that less of an issue. The outlets will only catch on if they’re cheap and easy to implment, which remains to be seen.

The current trajectory toward ever-smaller computing devices with shorter battery life underscores the need for convenient charging options. This looks like a good solution, especially if it can entice businesses and facilities like airports to line their walls with additional outlets.

Comments closed
    • HisDivineOrder
    • 8 years ago

    This reminds me of DRM. A company sees this as an excellent bullet point and puts more money into buying these and installing them than they would just footing the bill for the power expenditure. Because it’s not JUST the sockets, but also the infrastructure of alerting people that they have to pay, then managing the payment and tracking their bill, etc.

    Greedy is greedy.

    • cygnus1
    • 8 years ago

    i think it will highly depend on the type of business just how much an impact the highest customer power usage scenario would cause. a simple bookstore that doesn’t power much beyond lights and a few computers will be see a higher percentage increase than a coffee shop or fast food place that powers lots of heating/cooking/refrigeration/dish washing equipment.

    But the cost of power really isn’t what i bet these business are worried about. I think the billed power outlet will really be necessary to defray liability costs of allowing customers to plug in their personal electronics. they want to offer customers the option to charge but they have to accept the risk of a lawsuit related to electrocution at the worst and damaged property at the least. all it would take is some moron customer to come in with a slightly frayed power cable, and have a second customer get shocked. who does that second customer sue? not the moron customer with the frayed power cable, but the business that let them create an electric hazard.

    the businesses are probably looking to defray the, probably not so cheap, costs to insure themselves against those kinds of lawsuits.

    • yogibbear
    • 8 years ago

    Dubai airport…. have DOCKING stations for practically any power outlet and they are designed as such at every terminal gate and every coffee shop etc. etc. and even the business lounges have the same thing. It is awesome. Not metered. Can’t see why. Just charge people in overheads included in the tickets for the 20 cents or whatever.

    I reckon there’d be about 2000 power outlets and maybe 20% at any one time being occupied by people waiting for their flights.

      • cygnus1
      • 8 years ago

      dubai airport (except for terminal 2) kicks a lot of ass. but i love having this convenience in any airport. especially on unexpectedly long layovers. and the airport can very easily recoup any costs, including insurance. just increase the airport fees to the airlines, and that just get’s passed along to the passengers.

    • Krogoth
    • 8 years ago

    Another solution looking for a problem.

    You know that establishments with outlets and “Free Wi-Fi” can off-set the cost to paying customers by raising the cost of their product and can enforce in-house rules such as, “You have to get something in order to use our outlet.”

    None of these involved stupid gimmicks like this “authenticating outlet”

      • cygnus1
      • 8 years ago

      i disagree. this is a great solution for an establishment that has only a small percentage of its patrons that need to charge things. it’s much better than spreading the cost over all their prices and having everyone pay for those few people.

        • defacer
        • 8 years ago

        It’s totally obvious that among businesses thinking of installing such equipment, most will do so with fairness to their customers foremost in their mind. There is absolutely no chance that customers might be gouged, and of course the cost of the equipment will only be passed on to those customers who do require power no matter how long that would take to break even. After breaking even, the cost of power is of course going to be reduced appropriately.

        After all, being fair is the essence of human nature.

          • cygnus1
          • 8 years ago

          The equipment cost will probably be negligible compared to the ongoing cost of insurance. The prices will probably seem high to people that have no idea how a business works and what other overheads come in to play.

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            Insurance? What the heck are you going on about?

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    Companies just looking for another way to nickel and dime / double dip people. Terrible idea and the amount of money and effort it takes to put these things will so not be worth it in the long run unless someone is sneaking a extension cord from their house to the business.

    I really hate the new practice of no longer innovating and just beating the rock till it bleeds that has become prevelant in the last decade or so. ‘Cause the rock will eventually bleed… but betting on new things is a risk.

      • Krogoth
      • 8 years ago

      You already indirectly pay for electrical costs of the outlet via the establishment’s goods/services.

      This device is just a stupid gimmick that is looking for a problem.

        • Bensam123
        • 8 years ago

        Yeah you do… Thats what double dipping is. You get them at the business and at the outlet.

    • Palek
    • 8 years ago

    It’s almost as if some marketing executive somewhere in Sony thought to himself, “How can we piss off the world even more today?” and then earnestly went to work at it…

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      Maybe they thought “Hey, people are having our batteries blow up on them as they charge them… how can we [i<]monetize[/i<] that?"

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 8 years ago

        Just wait until they take out life insurance plans on all their customers.

      • LocalCitizen
      • 8 years ago

      yeah, seriously. Shouldn’t Sony put more thoughts on how to turn around their TV business ?

        • Palek
        • 8 years ago

        Veering off topic here, but yeah, I do wish for Sony’s TV division to survive. I really like their TVs so I hope they will still be around in a few years when the time comes to purchase new TV.

      • just brew it!
      • 8 years ago

      Most people probably wouldn’t even be aware that Sony made the device. Sony is just enabling other people to piss off their own customers!

        • Palek
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]Most people probably wouldn't even be aware that Sony made the device.[/quote<] Not to worry, the internet will fix that. Sony is despised in tech geek circles even more than Apple. There will be thousands of blogs, tweets and facebook posts ripping Sony apart.

    • cynan
    • 8 years ago

    I can see these catching on in airports and bus stations. And if your municipality is particularly cheap, maybe public libraries. But in retail/service? No chance.

      • LocalCitizen
      • 8 years ago

      Just as Palek said, this is a good way to p… off your customers over a few dollars. Unless you are desperate to contact someone, such as in an airport / train station / bus terminal, where you can be charged an arm and a leg, the cost of power used is probably far less than this authenticating equipment.

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    Somewhat related: I’ve been thinking about installing [url=http://www.storagereview.com/newertech_power2u_acusb_wall_outlet_review<]these[/url<] in a couple of appropriate locations... Not cheap, but definitely convenient.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 8 years ago

    small consumer devices, ‘eh, no big deal. But I can see this catching on with bigger things, like plug-in cars. At my work they designated two parking spaces for plug-ins because they’re near a wall socket in the garage. Not a big deal now (I think there’s only one plug-in car), but as these things become more popular, I can see some sort of metering coming for that.

      • xeridea
      • 8 years ago

      Good thoughts. I was gong to say, to run a laptop for 24 hours it costs like 5 to 10 cents, so the cost of installing specialized outlet with supporting infrastructure, and the lost business because of people feeling it is stupid is not worth it. Airport for example, lets say you have 200 power outlets that are used 24/7, that is like $10-20/day, which is so miniscule compared to the amount of money they handle it wouldn’t even register. Also, how they going to charge? If its with credit card, the minimum fee for using card outweighs cost of power by 100 fold.

      But for plug in cars, I have had this idea for a few years now. It will get more common for people to need to plug in at work and such, so something will need to be done about it in fairness, because someone charging their car for 40 hours/week would actually effect your power bill.

        • DreadCthulhu
        • 8 years ago

        Even electric cars don’t use all that much power. The Nissan Leaf has a 23 kw-hr battery; so even if an employee was charging the entire battery every day, that would be $2-$3 a day, or $10-$15 a week, at US electrical prices. I suspect a lot of employers include free charging as a perk, rather than bother with pay meters. On the other hand, if places put in special, high voltage meters to charge electric vehicles, they might as well order the charger with a credit card slot.

      • dmjifn
      • 8 years ago

      With so many establishments willing to foot the bill for free wifi in order to attract customers and keep them in the store longer, I’d agree that coffee shop laptop users probably aren’t the motivation for this. Rather, it’s probably more like you said. I could see Starbucks, etc. having parking spaces with metered electricity where you could top off your car while you sip lattes.

      • tootercomputer
      • 8 years ago

      I have not lived in Minnesota since the 1970s, but they used to have power plug-ins at parking garages so that people could plug in heaters installed in engines to keep them warm during sub-zero days in winter. It was very common. And heat sources are not cheap to power, even the low-watt heaters for engines. I guess the cost was covered in the parking fee. So there is some precedent out there for public use of power outlets. I wonder if parking garages still do that. Anyone from Minnesota?

        • UberGerbil
        • 8 years ago

        I don’t know about Minnesota, but those “hitching posts” for block heaters are still very common in Calgary and other places that make Minnesota a southernly destination.

        No need for them here in Seattle, but every new public parking garage has at least one or two dedicated charging stations for EVs — as required by code, I think, and I’m starting to see them retrofitted into older garages too. Those aren’t just household outlets, however. I think they’re mostly free at the moment as a courtesy but I imagine as EVs become more prevalent they’ll charge (in the other sense) just like parking meters.

    • BiffStroganoffsky
    • 8 years ago

    It’s Sony so, barring a huge paradigm shift, it would not be cheap nor easy to implement.

    • ludi
    • 8 years ago

    Some perspective: According to the article, this is being developed based on a Sony hardware-authenticating mobile payment standard already widespread in Japan. Japan famously has both a very high level of electronic gadget proliferation and some of the world’s highest energy rates, so it might actually make sense, there.

    Can’t see it being deployed so much in a place like, say, the US, where the necessary payment infrastructure is not developed and energy rates are fairly cheap. In fact many airports these days seem to be adding patron-accessible outlets and even miniature office cubicles. The flipside is that they like to set these things up near food service vendors or else place kiosks nearby where people can buy and immediately download movie rentals for in-flight viewing by placing them in self-destructing software containers, so they get their money by making it easier for people to either spend money on their gadgets or to purchase more airport services while using them.

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      Oh yay, Sony. Now I have to worry about my power getting haxzored.

      • theonespork
      • 8 years ago

      Another reason I dislike Sony. Every business is about making money, but Sony is so blatantly greedy in every facet of their business that it is just depressing. I know, I know, people will swarm with the “OMG”, and it is not just Sony it is business, and the…well whatever. I really do not care. I am just tired of seeing Sony’s name attached to pocket pilfering. If I read gaming news, Sony is pilfering. If I read film news, Sony is pilfering. If I read music news, Sony is pilfering. When is the last time Sony did ANYTHING pro-consumer, or even simply did something that did not make it appear consumers are the dredges they are forced to deal with so they can make their almighty buck?

      It is especially hard to like this company. They will patent and license this metering tech to some company that will sell it to every business they can find so that customers of their own devices will have to shell out even more money for the privilege of then using that device. This may seem especially negative, and I am sure the Adam Smiths will froth that I dare question mere capitalism, but really….

      • Zoomer
      • 8 years ago

      There is already an established market for this in Japan. There are cellphone charging stations where people could plug in their phones and pay to have it charged for 10 minutes.

      Deducting the money from the Felica enabled cellphone would eliminate fumbling with coins.

    • Rageypoo
    • 8 years ago

    Wow, is it really comming to this!? J.P Morgan, my hat off to you, not only did you manage to cripple the man who invented half of your luxuries, but puts the definition of “humanity” to shame, you sir are the most successful troll of them all, congrats.

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]I've often wondered what businesses think of these [b<]freeloaders[/b<], of which I am admittedly one. Like free Wi-Fi, unused power outlets are [b<]sure to attract customers[/b<] toting laptops and other gadgets, which no doubt leads to inflated power bills at the end of the month.[/quote<] Like advertising, sure to attract customers, which no doubt leads to inflated advertising bills! *face palm*

    • Chrispy_
    • 8 years ago

    Sony finding a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

    Most power leeches chose the venue because they can plug in. They’ll just go elsewhere and take their custom with them too, in the case of hotels, restaurants and coffeeshops etc.

    On top of that, what if the maintenance guy has to “authenticate” in order to do his vacuum cleaning?
    You can [b<]absolutely guarantee[/b<] that the ROI on this authenticating power outlet is negative.

      • bthylafh
      • 8 years ago

      This might be aimed at city-owned power outlets that are on lampposts and the like. One hears now and again about some twit who’s powered a non-trivial amount of his house through an extension cord plugged into one of these.

        • ludi
        • 8 years ago

        Those aren’t normally meant for public access anyway, they’re usually intended to support equipment when a work crew is servicing the light or something nearby, or to power holiday decorations. If the city doesn’t have a locking cover and/or switch on one of those it’s their own fault.

    • just brew it!
    • 8 years ago

    Are “power leeches” really *that* much of a drain? Unless an establishment has a rather high ratio of power outlets to square footage and a disproportionate share of clientele that forgets to charge their devices before leaving home/work, I find it hard to imagine that this inflates the power bills by a meaningful amount. The trend towards “ever-smaller computing devices” further undermines the economic side of the argument, since smaller devices consume so little power.

    At the end of the day, if a place starts charging for use of a power outlet, people who need to charge their devices will probably just take their business elsewhere.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 8 years ago

      From my experience working in campus restaurant, the power bill is going to be enormous already, I doubt people charging devices adds up to even a 5% increase in usage.

        • just brew it!
        • 8 years ago

        If I had to guess, I’d say more on the order of 1%. How many cellphones can you charge using the amount of electricity consumed by a *single* light bulb?

        The power usage of “leechers” is gonna be lost in the noise unless most of your customers are people with high-end “gamer” laptops.

          • ludi
          • 8 years ago

          Typical devices these days use standard USB interface per FTC rules, and the chargers are increasingly standardizing on the maximum power of the USB 2.0 spec — 2.0A at 5.3 V nominal, or just over 10W. Figure 15W at the wall outlet.

          One presumes many smartphones and tablets will actually draw most of that power while simultaneously charging a low battery, running the display, and engaging in mobile data or WiFi transmission, so from there you can get an estimate.

          The more relevant figure, though, is the cost of power. In the US it’s still averaging around $0.10/kW-h. In a medium-sized cafe or coffee shop your customers might easily plug in 2 or 3 kW of gadgets if you give them sufficient outlets, but even if that load is sustained over the entire business day, they might only be adding $5-10 to your total cost of doing business for that day. WiFi leaches who buy one food or drink item in order to get access, then occupy seat space for a couple hours or three, are far more destructive to the business model.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            then weigh that $5-10 (which I think is very high, myself; are you really getting that much sustained throughout the entire day? Or even more at high-traffic times so it balances out? My guess is no; not everyone automatically plugs in when they’re at Subway or Starbucks) against how many of those “leeches” aren’t leeches at all – they’re buying your stuff while they sit in there. Then what?

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            2 amps is really high for a USB charger. Most are 1.5 or less.

            Also, where I live space is not really an issue, and having people hanging around your shop probably helps bring in more people.

            • ludi
            • 8 years ago

            Fair point, I went and looked up several chargers and found quite a few at 750mA (Blackberry) or 1.0A (Apple and some others). My Nexus One and my Touchpad both seem to have 2.0A adapters available but those are apparently outliers.

            • xeridea
            • 8 years ago

            Your figures are way off, they are like in the asteroid belt. Even if you had a smartphone from 1987 that drew 15w of power, and 5 people had laptops plugged in 24/7 at your coffee shop your figures suck.

            Lets say 5 devices 24/7 averaging 20w each, for 100w. Thats 2.4kwh/day (if they stayed overnight), which would cost $0.24/day (average rates). So $0.24/day to keep dozens of customers coming to your place of business everyday, if any of them buy anything, that makes up for the cost of the whole day.

            Even if there was 50 people plugged in at your local Mcdonalds 24/7, thats only $2.40/day. For $10/day you could constantly charge 3-4 electric only vehicles, which use 100x+ more power than your typical mobile device.

            • ludi
            • 8 years ago

            Again, that was only intended to be a very high estimate. Obviously if we start mixing up laptops, tablets, etc. it wouldn’t be hard to get to a 10-20W average quite easily.

            • just brew it!
            • 8 years ago

            I think your numbers are a little high. AFAIK the limit for a USB 2.0 charging port is 1.5A at 5.0V nominal (not 2.0A at 5.3V), so we’re really looking at only ~7.5W to the device, or ~10W at the wall (assuming a reasonably efficient switching adapter).

            I could easily imagine a tablet drawing that much, but it seems rather high for a smartphone.

            [b<]Edit[/b<]: And even with your figures, you're assuming that there will be 200 devices (all drawing the maximum load) plugged in simultaneously? A medium sized cafe or coffee shop would be over the fire code "safe occupancy" limit if they tried to pack in 200 customers!

            • ludi
            • 8 years ago

            I was showing that even with a very high estimate, the cost is nominal.

      • LocalCitizen
      • 8 years ago

      if people only charged their phones and pads then it won’t be much power. but laptops use much more. in the extreme case, the MSI gaming lappy with GTX580M and i7QM comes with 180W power supply. if you host a lan party with 20 machines like that, you’ll notice the power drain.

      but in the avg case, let’s say a toshiba 15″ i5 with gt525M comes with 75w power supply, charges battery for 1hr during a 2hr stay, 12 hr a day (10am – 10pm), 20 sockets for mid size room, that’s 50*12*20 = 12kwhr = $1.2 / day

      so, yeah, not much money, or did i do something wrong?

      • Krogoth
      • 8 years ago

      The funny part is that customers already indirectly pay for the usage of outlets via the place’s goods/services.

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