Chipped wires Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

The explosion of the Internet has paralleled the general rise of technology. Demand for computer chips has driven the price of technology down to where we are beginning to see the term "smart" applied to common household items.

Coffeemakers, ovens and answering machines are all doing more to improve our lives at about the same cost as before. Technology has even crept into an item found in almost every house: an extension cord.

So what can technology do for a strand of wire with a plug on one end and a receptacle on the other?

"Our Fire Shield technology is designed to sense any problem with the cord and shut off the power," says Ned Schiff, vice president of commercial marketing and sales with Technology Research Corp. "There are a lot of fires caused by overloads, cords run under carpet or pinched by furniture. This damage can lead to fires."

An extension cord contains strands of wire. If strands are broken from weight placed on the cord, the cord can overheat and catch fire because the same amount of electricity is flowing through an inadequate number of wires.

"Our technology will sense any cord damage, regardless of whether it is damaged insulation or broken conductors," says Schiff.

If the cord senses trouble, an indicator button pops out and shuts off the power. The button can be reset, and if the power stays on, it was just a power surge or other anomaly. If it pops out again, it's an indication that the cord is damaged and should be replaced.

The cord senses current leakage at a level of two milliamps -- a level so low that a human would not notice it.

The cord is available in many of the same configurations and sizes as standard cords. The technology is also starting to be used in appliances and products like electric lift chairs.

TRC developed Fire Shield products after the Consumer Products Safety Council found that the number of home fires had gone down dramatically, but the number of electrical fires and appliance fires had not. Further studies showed a market existed for a safety product to help prevent fires.

"It's nice to be in the business of saving lives for a living," says Schiff. How to reach: Technology Research Corp.,

Todd Shryock ( is SBN's special reports editor.