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Battery-free electronics are on the way. Will smartphones be next?

Years of suffering having to constantly recharge batteries or running out of juice while you most need your electronics, including mobile phones, are coming to an end

BFree is battery-free system that allows electronic devices to run intermittently on harvested energy Researchers have developed a specially built room that can transmit energy to a variety of electronic devices The world's first Hybrid Wireless Battery is a power bank that has two charging coils built into one pad

With the spread of more and more smart products, the Internet of Things (IoT), and wearable gadgets of all shapes and sizes, the need for changing and charging batteries will only become greater and greater.

A lot of people are looking at battery-less solutions, where energy is harvested from the surrounding environment through light, motion, temperature gradients, or radio frequencies.

6G Communications promises to operate user devices without power.

It might take a bit of time to make it to market, as any new technology does, but the years of suffering having to constantly recharge batteries or running out of juice while you most need your electronics, including mobile phones, are coming to an end.

Say hello to BFree.  

Battery-free (BFree) systems

Computer engineers from Northwestern University and Delft University of Technology developed a battery-free system that allows electronic devices to run intermittently on harvested energy, such as solar power, giving them “an infinite lifetime,” a press statement reveals.

By seamlessly pausing calculations when power (like solar energy, or even button pressing) is interrupted and resuming when power returns, the BFree system allows devices to smoothly operate any time power is available.

BFree was designed not to solve the problems of battery recharging but rater to help tackle the problem of battery waste, 53 million tons of which is produced globally each year.

Last year, the same team unveiled a battery-free Game Boy called ‘ENGAGE,’ which is powered solely by the kinetic energy of button presses.

The future versions of BFree could be useful for space and especially small satellites which are powered completely from solar.  

With the new technology, the team says that even novice programmers can turn “their Do It Yourself (DIY) battery-powered motion sensor, for example, into a solar-powered sensor with an infinite lifetime.” 

BFREE
Image source: Interestingengineering

The BFree system allows devices to run perpetually using intermittent energy. When power is interrupted, the system pauses calculations. Then, when power returns, it resumes automatically without having lost any memory and without having to run through an extensive list of operations.

The new system could constitute a wide-ranging breakthrough for electronics, allowing for a radical reduction in e-waste from DIY electronics projects, which are increasingly gaining in popularity.

The question is if or when will it make it to the smartphone market? Here are other promising battery-free and wirelsess hybrid solutions. 

The charging room

What if your smartphone or laptop started charging as soon as you walked in the door? Researchers have developed a specially built room that can transmit energy to a variety of electronic devices within it, charging phones and powering home appliances without plugs or batteries.

charging room
Image source: scientificamerican

The room relies on the same phenomenon as short-range wireless phone chargers: a metal coil, placed in a magnetic field, will produce an electric current. Existing commercial charging docks use electricity from a wall outlet to produce a magnetic field in a small area. Most recent smartphones are equipped with a metal coil, and when such a model is placed on the dock, the interaction generates enough current to power the phone’s battery. But today’s commercial products have a very limited range. If you lift a phone off the dock or swathe it in a case that is too thick, the wireless power transfer ceases.

But if a magnetic field filled a whole room, any phone within it would have access to wireless power. The room could deliver 50 watts of power throughout the space firing up all of the devices equipped with a receiving coil. These included a smartphone, a light bulb, and a fan.

Delivery efficiency varied from a low of 37% to a high of about 90%, depending on the strength of the magnetic field at specific points in the room, as well as the orientation of the device.

 The researchers also tested the room’s safety by running computer simulations, measuring what the human body would be exposed to in a digital model of the powered room. The simulation suggested the absorption of energy in the test room would remain well below acceptable limits.

Beyond phones, a dedicated wireless charging room would allow a variety of electronic devices, sensors, mobile robots, or even medical implants to function in the background, recharging themselves without a wired connection and letting humans largely ignore them.

Wireless charging is an extremely competitive concept, with multiple start-ups vying to transmit power via electromagnetism, lasers, or sound waves.  

The world’s first hybrid wireless battery charging device

Raising over $160,000 on the Japanese crowdfunding site “Makuake,” the world’s first Hybrid Wireless Battery is a power bank that has two charging coils built into one pad, which can automatically identify the device placed on it and send the proper current.  

With its built-in magnet battery, it can attach to and charge iPhone 13/iPhone 12. In addition, the same surface can also be used to charge the AppleWatch, which can start charging by simply placing it on top of the battery, just like the iPhone.

hybrid battery
Image source: prnewswire

Furthermore, there is a built-in stand on the back of the battery, so you can watch videos while charging your phone or looking at recipes while cooking.

Launched on September 28 this year, the USB-C port enables PD 20W fast charging, so you can charge your iPhone at maximum speed.

It is designed to be compact enough to fit in the iPhone 13 mini and not get in the way of the camera.  The battery retails at $52.