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Researchers at University of Washington Develop Lightweight Battery-Free Cellphone

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Published on : Jul 10, 2017

In what seems to be breakthrough in battery technology for mobile devices, a team of computer scientists and electrical engineers at the University of Washington (UV) have designed a battery-free cellphone that consumes negligible power for its operation. The battery-free phone, as claimed by the scientists, uses either ambient radio waves or light (solar energy) to source few megawatts of power it needs for sending and receiving calls.

The details of the technology advancement is published on July 1, 2017 in the journal “Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies (IMWUT).”

Few Megawatts of Operational Energy Harvested Using Ambient Radio Waves or Light

Typically, the process of converting analog signals to digital data, a fundamental step in any modern cellular transmissions, consumes most of device’s battery power. The engineers have tried to eliminate just that, and, instead harvests the energy from tiny vibrations emitted out from the speaker while anyone is talking using the cellphone or receiving a call.

The prototype was demonstrated by using off-the-shelf components on a printed circuit board (PCB). Using surrounding radio waves, the team could show that Skype calls could be made with the help of a base station 31 feet away. While for the two way communication to a base station at a longer distance, up to 50 feet away, the device used a miniature grain-sized solar cell to source power from the surrounding light. 

On the Way to Developing Inexpensive Battery-Free Communication Devices

The researchers have designed a custom-base station for the transmission and reception of the radio signals. With process improvements, this will be integrated into a standard cellular network infrastructure or towers or Wi-Fi routers commonly used to make calls. In the not-so-distant future, standard cell towers or Wi-Fi routers could be integrated with this base station technology to get battery-free phone coverage for communication, opines Vamsi Talla zealously, who is a co-author and a former UW doctoral student and also a research associate at Allen School.

The device will still need some power, to the tune of 3.5 microwatts, to perform other functions. The innovation in design is likely to underpin a vital leap for engineers in developing battery-free devices, using lightweight as well as inexpensive harvesting energy sources.