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MIT Chip Battery Powered by Vibration, Light

Aug 6, 2012

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When it comes to making our devices thinner and thinner, the one technology holding it back is the slow-to-evolve battery.

Here’s a fact: battery technology lags behind processing technology. Make that way behind. The amount of power that batteries are capable of delivering doubles about every 10 years, while the overall power of the small, but mighty processor doubles about every 18 months (per Moore’s law). Not surprisingly, this affects device design. For the last decade, the lithium-based battery is the part that has been taking up the most room in even the sleekest of mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. It’s the key component that’s preventing these devices from becoming even thinner and smaller, but it’s the best we’ve got. Aside from lithium, there have been a few battery technologies that seemed promising, but have failed to catch on.

But all that might be about to change. The folks over at MIT, who’ve brought us all sorts of cool clean tech stuff, have yet another idea that might revolutionize battery technology: a chip that harnesses power from multiple sources—natural sources—including sunlight, heat, and even vibrations. Imagine sitting on a massage chair while simultaneously harvesting battery life for your smartphone. At issue, current chips require separate control circuits for each energy source, each of which has different energy requirements. To simplify the process, the new MIT chip is able to collect all of these energy sources from a single chip. Best of all, the chip can operate at very low power levels.

Saying that this chip will take the place of your smartphone battery would be pretty farfetched at this point.  Although, because it’s a chip rather than a separate part that can’t be integrated onto a motherboard, it has the potential to trigger a tectonic shift in technology by accelerating thinner design innovation and dramatically decreasing device development cycles. What are the odds of this becoming a reality? Hard to say, but if anyone can pull this off, it just might be the braniacs at MIT. 

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