A New Way To Plug In
If we can't cut the umbilical cord that ties us to the power grid, here's a way to at least make it look pretty.
I've looked at ways to untangle and organize this maze of electrical cords before ('Escaping the Cable Jungle,' Aug. 5, 2005). No solution is perfect, and I'm the first to admit I've done a poor job of escaping my cable jungle. But there is another way: something called Eubiq.
Short for 'electronic/electrical/energy/electricity' and 'ubiquitous,' it is pronounced 'u-biq' and is the brainchild of two Malaysian-born entrepreneurs, Yong Choon and Ng Joo Kok. Inspired by the lighting tracks in restaurants, galleries and museums -- where overhead lights can be shifted to where they are needed -- the two invested several years, and about $10 million, in finding a way to make power points more aesthetic and, well, ubiquitous.
The result is the Eubiq (www.eubiq.com) power outlet system. It includes a uniquely designed wall socket and plug (as well as socket adaptors for most traditional plugs used the world over). But at its core is a power strip -- called the Powertrack -- with a single trench less than two centimeters wide, concealed by two rubber flaps. These strips can run along the wall, or along the tops of desks, or sink into the surface of a conference table.
A Eubiq plug or socket adaptor slots into the trench by a single flat nozzle -- not unlike the keel on the bottom of a boat -- and is then twisted clockwise to switch it on. This twisting connects the live and neutral contacts buried inside the strip. The beauty of the system, of course, is that you can slot plugs anywhere you like along the strip -- it holds up to 16 Eubiq plugs in a meter of Powertrack or up to 12 Eubiq socket adaptors.
The first thing you notice about the Eubiq products is that they're all well-designed and well-made. For something as utilitarian as an electrical plug, the Eubiq wouldn't look out of place in a design museum. The usual prongs and holes are mostly hidden. The rubber flaps conceal the circuitry underneath; the keel on the bottom of the plug contains a housing for the metal points; and the half-turn to activate power to the plug removes the need for any switches.
If you didn't know what the Eubiq strip was for you'd be forgiven for thinking it was part of the furniture, and in a sense it is. The strips are designed to be part of the paneling or table top, and can also house communication cables and sport finishes from mahogany to titanium. (There's a strong emphasis on safety too: A shutter beneath the flap grounds any conductive material to the power track inside.)
This may be a coincidence, but the high quality of workmanship may have something to do with the fact that Eubiq's entire operation is based in one building in an industrial estate in Singapore. Materials are imported from Japan, South Korea and Germany and assembled in a modest workshop only a floor from the office of Mr. Ng, the company's chief designer and director of global business. Mr. Ng, 34 years old, compares the quality of his products to those made by a Swiss watchmaker or a German car manufacturer.
So who uses Eubiq? The company points to customers not only in the prosaic environments of offices, where the strips run along the dividing walls between desks, and hospitals, where they run close to the patients' headboards, but also in the more glamorous worlds of racing cars (powering the innards of those big car transporters) and hotels. Mr. Ng says they are also talking to designers of luxury yachts, cruise liners and airport lounges.
One place you can see the Eubiq range in action is a Singapore cyber cafe called Geek Terminal. Owner Christopher Lee realized the system was the answer to his prayers for finding a way to provide his customers with a power source that is accessible and also easy to find. The Eubiq tracks he's put into the floor of his restaurant not only solve his power problem, they also allow him to move tables and chairs depending on layout or events. I couldn't help but be impressed. One day Eubiq -- or something like it -- will make finding a source of electricity a thing of the past.
Reservations? I saw one worn-out display Powertrack in a shop; the rubber flaps didn't snap back into place when I removed a plug. Mr. Ng says that they're working on better models with stronger materials, but argues that the strips can withstand 50 years of normal usage.
I guess I'd have some qualms, too, about buying into a closed system owned by a single, modest-size company. For one thing it's likely to be pricey. For another, who's to know if the company can keep going? Traditional plugs and power cords may not be pretty, but you can buy them everywhere. Mr. Ng says it would be possible to wire a three-bedroom house with Eubiq power outlets for less than $1,500, including all the necessary plugs and sockets. And he says Eubiq is open to licensing deals along the lines of Apple and its iPod, which has spawned a world of third-party accessories. 'This is designed,' he says, 'for different players to participate.' He could be right; who would have thought people would spend as much -- or more -- on accessorizing a music player or phone as they spent on the device itself?
More seriously, the Eubiq only solves half the problem it's trying to address. While the strips do a good job of bringing power to where we need it -- in a way that's aesthetically pleasing -- and while the plugs themselves are nicer to look at than traditional ones, Eubiq doesn't solve the problem of cabling between the power outlet and the appliance. Even the company's own kitchen, powered by a Eubiq Powertrack strip at eye level above the counter, sported a hanging garden of dangling wires powering a range of appliances -- a coffee maker, a rice cooker, a microwave and a kettle. It looks better than having lots of power cords or three-way adaptors, but the cables are still an eyesore.
Solving that problem will take another step or two. For now, let's be grateful that Eubiq has made the common electrical socket and plug as sleek and cool as the gadgets they power.
Eubiq一词由“电子／电气／电能／电”及“无处不在”两部分组合而成，是Yong Choon和Ng Joo Kok这两位马来西亚裔企业家的奇思妙想。他们受餐馆、画廊和博物馆里那些位置可调照明灯具的启发，花了大约1千万美元，用了数年的时间试图找到一种方法使电源插座看起来更加美观，并且触手可及。
这也许是个巧合，但Eubiq高质量的工艺或许是因为其全部生产工作都在新加坡某工业园区的一个建筑里完成。公司从日本、韩国和德国进口原材料，然后在距离Ng Joo Kok的办公室只有一层之隔的一个不起眼车间中进行组装。现年34岁的Ng Joo Kok为公司首席设计师兼全球业务总监，他将公司产品的质量与瑞士手表商和德国汽车生产商的产品相媲美。
所以哪些人使用Eubiq呢？公司的客户不仅来自环境幽雅的办公室，在这里接线板沿着办公桌间的隔板布置；还有医院，在这里它们沿着病人床头的控制面板布置；还包括光彩夺目的赛车世界（用于那些大型车辆运输车内部）和酒店。Ng Joo Kok表示，他们目前也在与豪华游艇、游轮和机场大厅的设计师们进行接洽。
能看到Eubiq妙用的地方之一是新加坡一家名为Geek Terminal的网吧。网吧主人Christopher Lee意识到这个系统为他提供了梦寐以求的解决方案，可为其顾客提供方便接入、容易找到的电源。他将Eubiq接线板嵌入餐厅的地板里，这不但解决了电源问题，而且方便他根据网吧布局和活动安排而移动桌椅。这一点给我留下了深刻印象。总有一天Eubiq或类似的东西将使寻找电源成为历史。
Eubiq有什么缺点吗？我看到某家商店中展出了一个破损的Powertrack接线板，当我拔掉插头时，胶皮无法复位。Ng Joo Kok表示他们目前正在研究采用更耐用的材料提高产品性能，但同时表示目前生产的接线板在正常情况下可以使用50年。
我想我对购买由一个不起眼的公司提供的、用户有限的系统也会心存疑虑。首先，产品价格可能会非常高。其次，谁知道公司有一天会不会垮掉？传统插头和电源线可能不美观，但你可以在任何地方买到。Ng Joo Kok说可以花不到1,500美元用Eubiq电源插座系统装备一所有三间卧室的房子，配齐所有插头和插座。他还说，Eubiq不排斥为苹果公司(Apple Inc.)所产电脑及其iPod产品提供配套。他说，Eubiq就是为不同顾客设计的。他可能是对的，但是有多少人会认为人们乐意在配件上花和音乐播放器或音乐手机同样或更多的钱呢？