MIT grad students seek to bankroll a power brick replacement

Laptop and device owners know there are few things more annoying than power bricks. They litter the floor under my desk for the laptop, the speakers, the cable modem and an external hard drive. And of course, you have to deal with them for your laptop.

A group of MIT graduate students have formed a company called FINsix aimed at solviong that problem and are looking for a little help on Kickstarter to fund their project, known as Dart. Dart is basically a fat power plug that greatly reduces the size of the old power brick.

The 65W power adapter fits in a pocket or purse, and is designed to only occupy a single power outlet. Many power adapters, such as the one on my cable modem and external drive, is a very large device that can hog two power plugs. In addition to only occupying one power outlet, there is a USB adapter on the cable, so you can simultaneously charge your iPhone and laptop at the same time.

"We hope you are as excited about the Dart as we are and looking forward to finally carrying just one, tiny Dart to charge all your electronics," developers FINsix wrote on Kickstarter. "Join our campaign and never be stuck powerless again!"

People have. In the days since it launched, 2,800 backers have pledged $304,000. That blows away the $200,000 they were looking for.

You won't be powerless but you will pay. When the Dart eventually goes on sale it will be at a retail price of $120. Early Bird supporters who kicked in $79 got to save $40, however, that is sold out. Supporters who want to kick in $89 can get $30 off their Dart, shipping included, in a choice of blue, magenta, silver, gunmetal, or orange.

Things are a little different for MacBook owners. FINsix had to make a different adapter than the standard one found on PC notebooks, since Macs use the MagSafe connector. And high-end MacBooks, the 15- and 17-inch Pro and 15-inch with Retina display, require more than 65 watts, so there is no Dart for those notebooks as yet. Dart for MacBook will cost $168. Kickstarter supports can get it for $20 off with the early bird special. Delivery is expected in December.

FINsix explained some of the secret sauce behind the Dart. It's achieved by very high frequency (VHF) power conversion. An AC/DC power converter like a power brick takes the power from your wall and regulates it to the right voltage or current for your electronics. FINsix's patented VHF platform makes these converters radically smaller.

FINsix was founded by MIT students but there are some adults in the room, too. It counts some veterans among its senior staff, such as VP of sales and marketing Joseph Scarci, a 25-year veteran of the power industry; Dave Grant, director of IC development and a top power IC designer at Texas Instruments; Jim Kardach, director of technology integration and formerly chief power architect at Intel; and Chris Strickler, former director of engineering at Comarco, a company that designs and sells small form factor laptop power adapters now serving as senior principal engineer for FINsix.

Dart is expected to ship in November, with the Mac product due in December.

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