Magnetic Nanoport links phones to accessories, cars, each other

Nano Magnetics thinks smartphone makers will like a magnetic connection technology that will let customers attach speakers, chargers, or storage devices to their phones.

Nanoport's magnetic links will let people attach two phones together for a single larger screen.
Nanoport's magnetic links will let people attach two phones together for a single larger screen. Nano Magnetics

Magnetic toy maker Nano Magnetics announced a technology Tuesday called Nanoport, designed to let people link small phone displays into a single larger one, snap phones onto car dashboards, and easily link them to other devices.

Nano Magnetics hopes to license Nanoport first to smartphone makers and later to other tech companies, the company said Tuesday at CES 2014. Nanoport uses small neodymium (aka rare earth magnets) , but it can be augmented with electromagnets for more demanding attachment situations, like car dashboards. It's also got wireless mechanisms for charging and USB-derived data transfer.

The Nanoport technology also would let people stack devices, for example, attaching phone to a wireless charger or battery for power, or to another phone for data transfer.
The Nanoport technology also would let people stack devices, for example, attaching a phone to a wireless charger or a battery for power, or to another phone for data transfer. Nano Magnetics

With Nanoport, devices could be stacked, tiled side by side, or collapsed like a zig-zag of fan-fold paper. Phone displays could be linked into a single larger one, or a phone could be augmented with a battery boosters, speaker, or external storage device.

"It effectively turns electronics into building blocks that can be combined to create new devices, then later collapsed for transport," said Chief Executive and founder Tim Szeto in a statement.

This marks a significant expansion for the 35-person company, which makes the Nanodots magnetic toys . That business has a big problem: the Consumer Products Safety Commission doesn't like powerful, tiny magnets that can be swallowed.

"The CPSC asked us to stop the sale of Nanodots until the industry and government could find a solution for the safe sale of small neodymium magnets," Marketing Manager Ashley Huffman said.

Connecting devices from different companies could be difficult if magnets don't align properly, but Nanoport devices will work on surfaces with ordinary ferrous metals, too, making the technology more flexible. Compatibility among devices isn't so big a deal if an accessory is made to work with a specific product, though, or if a company offers a modular device that uses Nanoport behind the scenes.

The company hopes to attract developers to the idea. At CES, the company will open up its hardware and software designs through its Nanoport Developer Program.

Nano Magnetics, the company behind these Nanodots magnetic toys, is moving into the electronic interface market with the debut at CES 2014 of Nanoport, "a universal magnetic connector technology."
Nano Magnetics, the company behind these Nanodots magnetic toys, is moving into the electronic interface market with the debut at CES 2014 of Nanoport, "a universal magnetic connector technology." screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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