Sunday, 10 August 2014

Batteries for our power-hungry lives

'Power sunset' by Khalid
Al-Haqqan under a CC license
The use of electricity has been one huge step for mankind. I sometimes wonder whether the electricians/ engineers of the first few years of electricity (in the 19th century) could predict the magnitude of its applications some 5-7 generations in the future.

Today, in the urban world, at least, it is very hard to leave away from a mains socket for long. True, big household appliances, such as the stove, the microwave, the washing machine and the vaccuum cleaner - to name a few - are nothing of an innovation, nowadays. But numerous other (electronic) gadgets for our daily life have emerged. Some competing for our "free" time, while others aggressively claim to be (and some truly are) productivity tools. Laptops, tablets, mobile phones and smartphones, digital cameras, mp3 players are amongst the popular ones. The list gets expanded constantly as we speak. Smartwatches, wearable devices, medical devices, and all those existing or emerging devices that gear up for the internet of things.

Don't worry... I won't be lecturing you on our level of dependence on those numerous electric and electronic devices. After all, they are here to make our lives a bit better, even if we are talking about small things, such as reading a tweet from a friend, googling an unknown word or anything of that scale (I'm being a bit unfair, since living in networked wolds offers great potential - and I've written something vaguely on that in the past).

But I will share with you that being "forced" to seek for a mains socket every so often annoys me.
OK, not so much when I'm at home or at work but definitely when I'm away on a business trip or on holidays. It is 2014, I know. There are power sockets in most places. Charging hubs in airports and cafes with wireless charging stations starting to appear, as well.

You may feel differently but I' d really applaud any development that would increase our flexibility away from a mains socket. Having said that, the options are limited. Sun charging doesn't seem to be living up to the hype (it takes too much time under intense sunlight to charge a moderate smartphone). Energy harvesting is still in development. Batteries have come a long way so as to hold more power, endure many more recharging cycles, tolerate heat or cold, etc.  but at the same time, however, our devices need more juice to "do more stuff". I feel that we are witnessing an energy stalemate, where the power storage front barely manages to meet the energy demand of our devices.

Unfortunately, as a consumer, I don't see any major consumer drive to prolonged power independence. I hope I am wrong. I hope engineers will manage to give us better energy storage options and, at the same time, manage to do more "stuff" with less power. To put it in a more naive (but challenging) way: My 10-year old mobile had a 900 mAh battery and could last for some 7-8 days albeit under low use (say, a phone call per day). My current smartphone has a 1500 mAh battery and can barely reach 4 days (with WiFi, 3G, BT and GPS off). Could a future smartphone survive for a week with all the bells and whistles on? I only wish....

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