Battery Powered World

Everything is battery powered. My laptop, my iPod, my digtal camera, my mobile phone, my regular phone… everything. Regardless of the fact that I rely on all of these devices on a daily basis, I just can’t seem to keep them all powered up.
I stopped using a Palm Pilot long ago for this very reason. It was never charged up, and as easy as it is, I simply couldn’t be bothered keeping it in its cradle. It’s collecting dust now. Ditto the mobile phone, although I’m making a point of plugging it in these days. Perhaps the monthly fee has something to do with it.
I have an older model iPod, so I need to remember to plug it into the Firewire cable dangling permanently from my computer. Newer models come with a dock that makes recharging easier. I have an older model.
The problem: each device has it’s own power adapter. Each one of them different. I don’t have enough outlets in one room to keep the suckers juiced to max power — and if I did, the resulting octopus of cables would be insanity.
So, I’ve decided I need a universal adapter that will charge everything and anything. Or better yet, I need wireless recharging — or batteries that last years.
Wireless internet technolgy is amazing and everyone is (rightfully) fired up about it — but it’s amazing how tied down we are to power that is never fully wireless.
While at the airport recently, I found myself constantly searching for a comfortable seat near a power outlet. They were always taken. I resorted to sitting on the floor, usually propped up against a vending machine, using every last second to give my PowerBook just a little bit more life.
While at SXSW Interactive, power outlets in panel sessions were scarce. At one point while chatting with a friend, I had to quickly write “battery dying. bye.”. Thankfully, the friend unplugged his adapter and silently handed it over so that I might siphon off some precious voltage. Ahh. Rejuvenation.
Will we ever be truly wireless?

61 Comments

  1. hakejam says:

    There is a good article in this months Wired Magazine. It hasn’t been published on the web yet.

  2. Joel says:

    The latest issue of Wired has the a pretty interesting article on battery technology and how it’s lagging behind.

  3. Joel says:

    wow must have commented before i finished typing. touche.

  4. Keith says:

    I sure hope so. I’ve got very similar problems. I had the exact same airport experience yesterday and my Palm is collecting dust also. There are just so many gadgets one can handle.
    It would be really nice if there were easier ways to charge up and stay charged.

  5. Jeremy says:

    But as nice as all the batterys claim to be, they are always lasting much less then advertised. But I only desire more, and more of these wireless things. :)
    It’s like a shiny new car to me. You eventually have to fix something to make sure it keeps going… and that costs.

  6. eric says:

    I read something about battery advances – Moore’s Law says that computing power doubles every 18 months, yet battery capacity increases by around 10 percent every three. Something like that. Why can’t we have kinetically-charged devices, like those watches that were all the rage for several years?

  7. hakejam says:

    Yes eric, that was from the Wired article.

  8. Josh Jarmin says:

    I would like a kinetically charged iPod and even a laptop. You know Apple would be the first major company to release products with this technology. One thing that I think holds back wireless power has to be if we send electricity through the air, and it were to rain, that would probably not be good.

  9. Dave says:

    I’ve found that my likelihood of plugging in a mobile device rises sharply when I have an easy place to put it that never changes. I recently got a new iPod with a dock, and it’s made all of the difference. Realizing this, I went out and bought a desk cradle for my cell phone. Having handy little docks that don’t fall behind tables like stray cables were always doing has really helped.

  10. Nate says:

    I’ve owned a Seiko Kinetic watch for 6 or 7 years; still runs like a charm!
    Instead of scurrying around trying to find an outlet at the airport, just pick up your laptop, tuck it tight like a football (can’t afford to fumble), and RUN!

  11. Hasan says:

    Careful with adapters; I’m no electrician, but besides voltages there are minor differences in other areas (help me out guys, not impedences…) that can do funny things to sophisticated electronics, if I’m not mistaken.

  12. Anil says:

    Well, it’s not a real “solution”, but for now iGo and ziplinq help ease the problem a bit.

  13. Brian says:

    Passive electric guitar pickups use the vibration of the strings to generate a tiny tiny current through a coil wrapped around a magnet. These things haven’t really changed much in 50 years. I’d love to see this concept miniaturized somehow (microscopic coils? superpowerful magnets? ya got me.) and developed to the point where we could power small devices like PDAs (or hell, flashlights would be a start) from radio waves that are already all around us.
    I’m sure this is impossible, or it’d've already been done. but I can dream, right?

  14. Brad says:

    I just recently read the article in Wired a few of you have mentioned and it is indeed addressing this exact problem. It seems that no one is focusing on batteries or the power consumption of devices and this is why we see more and more devices using additional power and becoming less efficient. The use of “cradles” temporarily aids with the recharging of devices simply because the cradle “do not only fall behind the desk,” but it also is openly visible thus reminding us all to recharge our devices. Eventually, this issue will be taken seriously because the devices we know and love will be shrinking while also becoming more functional. As this begins to occur on a larger level, the weight, inefficiency, and lack of progression surrounding batteries and battery life will be addressed and advancement will occur.

  15. Tero says:

    Probably not quite as handy as you’d like, but iGo’s PPS (Peripheral Powering System) is a step in the right direction, I think. Single charger, with adapters for laptop, handhelds and mobile phones, and simultaneous charging of more than one device.
    http://www.igo.com/ftp/reseller/PPS.htm

  16. Will says:

    Actually, a company called MobileWise developed a way to recharge batteries wirelessly. You plugged in a power pad (which looks like a desk blotter) and it recharged any compatible mobile device placed on its surface.
    The technology has been around for over a year, but I don’t know if any products ever shipped. Acer was supposed to bring the first devices to market at the end of last year, but MobileWise’s “latest” press releases are from January 2003.
    If MobileWise is already dead in the water, then I’d have to agree with Dave. My cellphone is much more likely to get recharged at the end of the day since I just have to drop it into a dock without fumbling for any cords.
    P.S. – Other (emergency power) solutions have not seemed to fare very well.

  17. Brian, that’s a brilliant idea. I didn’t know electric guitars worked that way. You learn something new every day.
    No, we will never truly be wireless. At least, not with the knowledge required today. Every substance has a different electric resistance. The mixture of gasses that make up our atmosphere have extremely high resistance, thus you require a similarly high voltage to pass electricity through it. Certainly not a voltage that you would want zipping around us.
    I would like to see those kinetic batteries in more things too. It seems like an obvious advantage, so there must be some kind of drawback.

  18. Jonas Rabbe says:

    There has been quite a bit of research into wireless power. The problem, however, is that each time someone takes some power from a radio signal it becomes weaker. This might not be a problem if you take a tiny amount of power from the signal of a large radio station, but what if 1,000,000 people do? Suddenly, everyone would be charged, but noone would have anything to listen to. The same would apply if taking energy from a Wi-Fi signal or the radio signal use for emergency services, how would we distinguish which signal we could “tap” for juice. This is the reason that it is illegal to use devices that drain energy from the radio signals.

  19. Chris Clark says:

    There’s always ThinkGeek’s Forever Flashlight for the wireless charge-seeker; but as you can see from the description, it takes 30 seconds of solid shaking to produce 5 minutes of light from an LED. Likewise (though the principles aren’t exactly the same) watches don’t require much power to operate, so their kinetic charging methods work a treat.
    As I recall, there was a case of a man stealing grid power wirelessly using induction — he’d set up coils in his backyard (high-tension power lines ran overhead) and was powering his house for free. Unfortunately, the coils required for such a setup are huge, so it isn’t really feasible for gadget powering.
    Also, induction isn’t nearly as efficient as wire for electrical conduction — though useful in the case of electric toothbrushes and shavers where the device is likely to get wet, so wired contacts would be a bad idea. Of course, once they do figure out how to do wireless power properly, there’s the whole “how do we monitor and police power usage when it’s wireless and ubiquitous” issue… but that’s something the lawmakers will have to face eventually anyway. Aside from wireless power, I think we’d all like to see Wi-Fi access points as regularly as we see mobile phone towers, too.
    Incidentally, John Law cottoned on to the power-thief’s scheme in time. Voltage drops tend to be pretty noticeable, so the electricity company sent a team to the guy’s block to investigate. Didn’t get off too lightly.

  20. mark says:

    have you ever used a cordless re-chargeable electric toothbrush? The one i uses simply sits on a nub with no other connection. the nub transfers electricity to the battery inside the toothbrush… how long will it be before we get desks with a panel that provides the same functionality? you simply sit your laptop pda ipod or whatever on the pad and it instantly begins charging…
    the technologies there, its just a metter of it being used.
    mark

  21. Splashpower is another wireless charger. It’s not an end product you can buy yet (they’ve just received $5million funding to this end) but their prototypes look good.

  22. Florian Jung says:

    The good thing about electric toothbrushes is that you use them only for about ten minutes and have them recharged about 24 hours a day, so you don’t have problems with large power transfer rates.
    The other thing is the hole in the bottom (in fact there is a coil winding around the hole) needed to put an electromagnet into it for recharging, so you don’t have a real wireless power supply — more worse you can’t even use a 2 m extension cable with it.

  23. Rik says:

    I work for a gadget website which sells the Powerball, which is a gyroscopic wrist exerciser and the Forever flashlight which gets its power from an electromagnetic induction coil – you shake it for thirty seconds and get several minutes of light – I keep thinking that one might be able to hybridize these two in order to create a hand-powered phone recharger dynamo wrist strengthener type device. No idea how feasible this is, I’ll have to ask my physicist friends…feel free to steal this idea.

  24. Kevin says:

    I think the ideas behind the electric guitar are interesting … the required power comes from user input. Can we not do something similar with a laptop, but on a larger scale? Somehow capture the kinetic energy of typing to help charge the battery? I’m sure simply typing would not be enough to drive a G4 processor, but maybe it could be supplemental.

  25. mattymcg says:

    So true about having a place to put the phone! If I got myself a cradle, not only would I have more juice during the day, but I would probably stop losing it and having to ask my girlfriend (while in the same room) to call me just so I can locate it again…

  26. Cameron says:

    When someone figures out how to beam a stream of electricity wirelessly the same way we beam radio signals, I’ll sell sliced bread unsliced. This is something that’s puzzled me since my youth… and still puzzles me today as to why no one has figured out how to do it.

  27. Jonas Rabbe says:

    Cameron: Someone has figured it out. Any radio or ligth signal contains energy, this energy can be converted from the wireless form into conventional electricity (for example solar panels for light). The problem with this is twofold. One: Whenever you tap some energy from the signal it is weakened, this may not be a problem for an energy source such as the sun, but a conventional radio signal would just die. This leads us to, two: The amount of energy required in the signal to get any worthwhile power out of it is staggering, a transmitter that big would surely have a number of side effects (just as the sun has, think skin cancer, sun burns, etc.)
    The technology is out there to for example use the radio waves around us to get electricity, but it is illegal to do so. Imagine if you have a cell phone which is powered wirelessly, the guy behind you (from the view of the cell-mast) would not get any power nor signal. I am not sure about the exact legislation, but I think it’s something like the one who broadcasts the signal in essence owns it, blocking, gaining energy, or otherwise altering the signal is tantamount to stealing. Since it’s governed by the FCC in the US it might even be a federal offense.
    - Jonas

  28. Ryan says:

    What about a micro fusion device, generate the power instead of storing it.
    (Or perhaps micro fission, whichever is less crazy)

  29. supercrisis says:

    This is the same as that gold rush parable “When everyone is digging for gold, sell shovels.”
    As all of this crazy wireless technology keeps coming, more and more companies are trying to develop wireless devices. If you really wanna be in the cash, develop batteries.

  30. blakems says:

    That is only half of it. There are also all of those DC adapters you need for your car cigarette lighter.

  31. vanderwal says:

    The power problem was the main reason I switched to a Treo 600, which replaced a cell phone, Palm, and HipTop. The driving force actually was adding an iPod to my menagerie of gadgets. I had four devices that needed to be powered-up and/or synched. I was not going to leave the iPod, but four devices was more than silly. I am now down to just two wonderful devices that need power daily.
    I also have a laptop, which does not take the daily journey to work with me. However when travelling I have noticed that those sitting in the highyly coveted seats near electrical outlets are not in need of these devices. We need a sign, much like a handicapped sign that reserves these seats for those in need of the AC/DC. Normally I just take my place sitting on the floor and plugging in. This is seems to be the standard for those of us who are digitally tethered. I also usually have a nickel on me as they can be used to unscrew the brass covers on the in-floor sockets.
    In these days of hightened security I have noticed the paranoid looks I get as well as others as we scour airport and other transportation terminals for power outlets on walls, columns, and floors. Those of us that are habitual users of the sockets recognize each other and give knowing nods to where an open socket can be found. There is always a knowing nod back, to thank for the head’s up.

  32. matt says:

    Talking of wireless power, there’s a remote village somewhere in italy (unfortunately cant remember the name) in a deep gully. For years they were without eletricity due to the physical limitations of cables and pylons. Then one day this Italian physicist (again forget his name, and i cant be bothered to research it) offered to set up a micro-power station (sent and recieved in a beam via small dishes, and distributored throughout the village using regular cables). Works like a charm – just imagine this kind of power distribution from space – to remote areas in africa, or the artic. Quite impressive if you ask me… and has HUGE potential, esp. alongside other wireless technologies.
    Anyways, thats my pennies worth.

  33. mike says:

    Why not just find a wireless device that can do the job of the 10 different devices you have now?

  34. Ram says:

    Kevin mentioned harnessing the kinetic energy from typing at the keyboard. I remember reading about this last year, although I haven’t heard anything about it since… It definitely won’t run a machine all by itself, but was meant to be a supplement.
    I’m not sure just how much energy you would actually get from it, though. How much do you type while surfing, for example? :-) Though chatting would probably start “paying off”… ;-)

  35. Dave says:

    Jonas makes an excellent point about the dangers. Have you ever seen the large broadcast antennas on television news trucks? My brother works on those. They transmit microwaves. Lots of microwaves. That’s why they raise them so far off the ground. You don’t want to get cateracts from having your eyeballs cooked. He said they see seagulls incinerated on a regular basis from perching on the antennas.
    BTW, if anyone is interested, here is a map of the US power grid. Still lots of uncharted space.

  36. Florian Jung says:

    I think a good idea is to use solar energy as with pocket calculators. The efficiency is noch quite good at the moment, but with the new transparent solar panels it is possible to use much larger areas than before. For example you could mount them in front of laptop displays, PDA’s.
    @Ryan: I don’t know if you really want to have a fission/fusion device in your mobile phone but there are experimental devices using hydrogen cells.

  37. tim says:

    splashpower is interesting but not all that available

  38. Dan says:

    Similar stuff over at Decaffeinated.org, http://decaffeinated.org/archives/2004/02/10/charge

  39. Michael Z. says:

    Why set up radio transmitters when there’s already light all over the place? The trick is incorporating panels into devices.
    My Citizen Eco-Drive watch works like a charm. The watch face is a solar cell that trickle-charges the long-life battery. If you leave it in a drawer for a month it goes to sleep, but after a couple minutes in light the hands zip over to the correct time.
    A laptop could have a panel on the lid, and why not another behind the display to gather office light while in use?

  40. Michael Z. says:

    Okay — I just thought through that last idea. Never mind.

  41. Bozett says:

    If I’m not mistaken…
    Receiving a signal doesn’t deplete it.
    Consider an analogy: take a garden hose and point it straight up. The water is the “radio waves”. Then we put a bunch of cups all over to catch the water from the hose. No matter how many cups we have, the water still flows from the hose at the same rate. The cups only catch the water. If the cups were small enough (physical proximity), we could have billions of them getting water from just one hose…

  42. John says:

    I read somewhere that butane fuel cells are being made extremely small and last for much longer than any standard batteries. Maybe fuel cells hold the answer.
    JT

  43. John says:

    Here is a link about the fuel cells:
    click here
    JT

  44. John says:

    Here is another link from Wired.
    JT

  45. To hell with batteries, I say! First of all, they’re annoying: I have to buy them, replace them, throw them away, then buy, replace, trash, buy, replace, trash… etc. I find normal batteries handier than rechargeables because you don’t need to wait 3 hours to use your device.
    What I’ve been wondering about is wireless power. Perhaps we might some day find a way to transmit power via hi-amplitude light waves… Another, more feasible idea would be to use lasers to transmit energy. The reciever would be a little solar-panel -like thing that absorbs the power from the beam. However, the transmitter would need a considerable amount of power, and as far as I know this laser-transmitting thing could only be done in line-of-sigth applications (in a straight line). We could use mirrors of some sort, but then we’re complicating matters already complex enough.

  46. Max says:

    I too sympathise with the lack of battery life in most devices these days. I don’t actually have that many but I still find it hard to keep them charged and ready to go when I want to use them.
    On a lighter note. Battery powered devices are a step up from when I was 8 and I had a solar powered watch that only worked in direct sunlight. As soon as you stepped into the shade it would die, and once back in sunlight you’d have to reset the time and date.

  47. Jonas says:

    Bozett: It’s a nice analogy, but only serves to prove my point. It you if you layer the cups its should instantly be clear that those on the second layer (those standing behind people that grab some of the water/energy) receive little or no water. This would be similar to a crowd of people or just a large metropolis. Imagine that you’re talking on your cellphone and someone with a “energy receiver” walks by, suddenly the receiver is between you and the cell-mast and your signal dies.
    Your second point also brings up a question, how much energy can you “grab” if you cup is small enough to fit billions? We can only gain energy in relation to the surface area or the power of the signal, normal radio signals already around us are not very powerful when they reach the ground where most of us are. Having a small receiver would not give us enough energy to power anything.
    Alternatively the signals should be powerful enough that a very small receiver could gain enough energy from them, but this leads to the problem highlighted by Dave, how many people have to do like the seagulls and incenerate before we give it up?

  48. Goran says:

    First men who is research wireless power transfer is Nikola Tesla(1856-1943).
    Tesla went on to experiment with actual wireless transmission of electrical power

  49. Benjamin says:

    microwave transfer of energy.
    remember simcity 2000 :P

  50. AllSpiritsEve says:

    I was actually just talking with the techie at school today about speaker wires and how awesome it would be when there were wireless speakers available. This wouldn’t work, obviousely, until either batteries lasted so long that it wasn’t a pain to recharge them, or they could be powered/charged through the air. A connection like an electric toothbrush or “recharging pad” wouldn’t quite work, because I have my speakers perfectly set up and I wouldn’t want to have to move them.
    If what I read above is true, power can be taken from radio waves, which can be transmitted with a simple circuit (I’ve done it!) and could be used to power such devices as speakers . The trick would be to keep the waves from traveling over 10 feet or so, just far enough that they could power speakers, but close enough that they won’t disturb radio stations.
    Then again, maybe in the near future all of the radio stations will move to XM or something similar and we will be free to radio our little hearts out!
    (Spirit)

  51. Ed says:

    To solve the power outlet hunting problem at airports I propose that we take a page right out of the (recent) history books and bring back War Chalking – but we’ll call it Power Chalking, and we’ll use Sharpies because they last longer. Some of the symbols should look like this.
    And I am with those that have some sort of hybrid device. My Motorola MPX200 is my mobile phone/PDA/MP3 player/Gameboy – and I just put it in its cradle at work so not only does it charge, but it also syncronizes with Outlook.

  52. Nick says:

    You might like to check out the following book:
    The scientist, the madman, the thief, and their lightblub – the search for free energy
    (ISBN: 0743449762)
    Some interesting ideas that do make you begin to think if there is a way to get limitless energy.

  53. hakejam says:

    Wired finally posted the article, Moore’s Second Law.

  54. DaBerries says:

    I have the exact same problem with my laptop. If I unplug the little cable supplying juice to it the battery indicator says I have 3 hours of battery life left. I get about 15 mins use is all…
    I’m all for wireless. Mail me when something significant happens on this front. If I’m near a plug when your mail arrives I’ll reply

  55. old one says:

    Well this is simple. Wireless is about the least efficient solution you could dream of. Yes thre’s energy, enough in radion transmission that you can burn holes in walls with it. But it’s way too lossy.
    The easiest and safest way is to just use the old fashioned simple kinetic human energy.
    As long as power requirements aren’t too high, a simple wound spring will produce limitless energy as long as you wind it up.
    Several brands of short wave radios, flashlights and camping lanterns are powered this way and have been for a long long time. The flashlights typically run about a half hour per wind up.
    A touch of electronics for voltage regulation and the right plug on the end and presto, as much battery juice as you want for a crank.
    no muss no fuss and a little exercise to boot.
    Convert that snickers bar to calories and covert those calories to juice for your mp3 player.

  56. Anonymous says:

    Hmm, someone is already on the job
    http://www.freeplay.net/website/product/freecharge.php

  57. Alan says:

    Well………actually Nikola Tesla did find a way to transfer electricity without using wires……..and also Michael Faraday found that quite a large amount of electricity could be extracted straight from the earths magnetic field no matter where you were in the world. These are technologies that were described in the vedic scriptures written in sanscrit 20,000 BC in India…….Tesla was very interested in the vedic scriptures and even spoke to a guru on them around the same time he was experimenting with electricity. This was over a hundred years ago……but unfortunately oil came along.

  58. andres says:

    comment from a 13 year old:
    good old kinetic energy is the best way to go for now. after all, what would be the point of making radio waves to power a cell phone if you end up losing the signal to the power signal. there are several hand crank cellphone chargers. but microwave chargers sound like a good idea if transmitted in a very thin, strong beam high up as to be able to be picked up by a coil, but high enough as to be out of the way from animals.
    ps,microxave power transmission has been here for a long time. its just not popular

  59. Kevin says:

    What you’re also forgetting is that all of these radio stations would be giving out energy for free, and would want no part of that. You would end up paying more somehow, probably when initially buying the device, than the hassle is to plug it in. Unless you could find some way to convert oxygen or nitrogen into fuel on the spot for a cheap start-up price, this wireless energy idea is somewhat pointless. The kinetic energy is a good point though, however with our lazy society today, not many people will like it.

  60. Mechengr says:

    Heh; perhaps kinetically-powered electronics would help break the human race out of it’s lethargic slump–imagine all children having to peddle a device with their feet to keep their game systems running! :P

  61. Arden says:

    Anyone got a circuit for induction charging of Li coin batteries?