We are surrounded by energy. Energy isn’t destroyed but is converted from one form into another: in the context of our smartphones, energy stored in the battery is converted to heat, light, sound and electromagnetic waves. Managing the supply and use of energy is one of the key features of our smartphones (and as it happens, almost everything else we use, but for now I’ll stick with smartphones). There have been great strides taken in keeping our devices’ power consumption down to a minimum, which is at odds with what we want to do from our devices. In the words of one of my geeky buddies, “I don’t get out of bed unless it’s a quad core.” It’s also a sad fact of modern life that battery technology has not progressed at the rate that other aspects of mobile technology has. Technologies such as Qualcomm’s Quick Charge are helping, but today my story concerns something that’s called the “triboelectric effect” and how Samsung have filed a patent to use the technology in up and coming smartphones. Set phasers on stun, people, and let’s take a look at Professor Wang’s short YouTube clip into the technology:
The science behind the technology is straightforward enough: energy in the form of electricity is generated when two objects make and break contact. Electricity is also generated when one object slides across another. Our smartphones rely on a touchscreen interface, so what if we would incorporate this technology into the touchscreen? What if running our fingers over the screen could generate enough charge to top up the battery? Samsung are pursuing the technology for future smartphones and I’d like to throw this into the ring: finally, an innovation that’s more useful than a heart rate monitor.
Of course, application for this type of energy collection service goes way, way beyond our smartphones, tablets and similar. It could be incorporated into many, many aspects of life. Professor Wang states that he expects the technology will be capable of producing more than double our energy requirements in five years. This is a very aggressive estimation, but when we as a species put our minds to something, we can make great things happen in a short space of time. With Samsung’s filing, the technology is based around applying a triboelectric film onto a smartphone or tablet and so harvest the energy generated by tapping or rubbing the display, which is then channeled back into the battery. It’s not expected that the technology will remove the need to charge our devices, but it could significantly reduce our reliance on chargers. We’ll have to see how manufacturers deal with this technology: here’s hoping it’s not an excuse to push for thinner and thinner devices as they’ll self-recharge!