Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
A new power system called Thread adds outlets to any room without construction.
Oh, the indignity of sitting on the floor of a convention center, back against the wall, because that's where the electric outlet feeding your laptop or smartphone is. Why not put outlets on every surface there is? If it were up to me, there would be USB ports growing in trees, but the least we can do is spread outlets throughout convention centers, airports, classrooms, hotels, and any and every other place I have ever needed to charge my devices.
Of course, it costs money to trench or core or raise the floor to add an outlet close to where somebody might need it. And when the configuration of the room changes, that fixed floor outlet doesn't move around with it.
But the United States is a country that put robot rovers on Mars. And the engineers at Steelcase have applied that same sense of boundless optimism and determination to the problem of never having enough outlets. The resulting innovation is Thread, a roving power system that promises to indulge every American's constitutional right to power on demand.
Thread makes use of a thin, modular track power system that can be put down under carpet. Ultra-thin, in fact: It's just 3/16" thick. The track can be run to a floor-plate anywhere along the floor. A standing power hub, like a vertical extension cord with six outlets, connects to the floor panel; the tower-style hub can be moved anywhere, giving Thread range. (So can the low-profile floor panel, if you and an electrician feel like pulling up the carpet and resetting the wiring.)
Thread isn't for everywhere, because carpet isn't for everywhere. And I don't think that, as a nation, we should give up on the dream of outlets embedded directly into nature just yet. Still, it's at least possible now to imagine never again huddling in the corner of baggage claim for a precious outlet.