The world’s first battery-free phone harvests energy from radio waves

Whether it’s not being able to live-stream your latest tech unboxing or suffering the indignity of being rendered unable to stream music on your commute to work, there are plenty of reasons why phone batteries running flat are the absolute dirt worst. As hard as it is to believe, however, there are situations in which a phone running out of battery is even more devastating than making us endure a boring subway ride to the office.

A few examples: A firefighter needing guaranteed communication with his or her colleagues; a person trapped following a natural disaster and needing to call for help; or a person in the developing world with limited alternate means of staying in touch with family.

Fortunately, that’s where researchers from the University of Washington can help. They’ve invented a prototype cell phone that requires no batteries; instead harvesting the few microwatts of power it needs to run from ambient radio signals — or even light.

“The reason we chose to build a battery-free phone is because phones are one of the most important devices that virtually everyone uses,” Vamsi Talla, a former UW electrical engineering doctoral student and Allen School research associate, told Digital Trends. “Most of us have experienced the situation where our phone battery has died at an inopportune time, such as when we want to make an important phone call.”

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a prototype battery-free cellphone.

The battery-free cell phone saves on power by taking advantage of analog, as opposed to digital, voice encoding. The device’s range comes from tiny solar panels called photodiodes.

Talla said that there are two directions for the project from here. One is to license the technology to existing smartphone makers who could incorporate it into their devices so that emergency calls can be made, even if your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy is out of juice. “That could be a real lifesaver,” Talla explained.

The other direction is to build on the existing prototype to make bare-bones phones that could be used by people who might not otherwise have the luxury of being able to charge their handset whenever they want. “A phone like this would never need to be recharged, and could still be used to make phone calls and send text messages,” Talla said.

At present, the phone is extremely basic — comprising off-the-shelf components on a printed circuit board. Talla said that future versions could be more advanced, though.

“This is the first-generation model,” he said. We’re going to add more functionality in the future. The goal is to make a fully functional smartphone.” Future improvements, he said, could include the same kind of low-power display technology used in Kindle e-readers, as well as a low-power camera.

A paper describing the technology is published in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

Mobile

It’s 2025. How has 5G changed our lives? We asked experts to predict the future

2025 is the year that mobile carriers say 5G goes mainstream. How will the technology change, revolutionize, or make obsolete the things we do today? We asked futurists to give us an idea of our future 5G connected world.
Emerging Tech

Astro the dog-inspired quadruped robot can sit, lie down, and… learn?

Move over Spot! Researchers from Florida Atlantic University have built a new dog robot called Astro. Thanks to deep learning technology, it promises to be able to learn just like a real dog.
Wearables

It has LTE and a voice assistant, but the DokiPal kid’s smartwatch is a disaster

The DokiPal smartwatch for kids is a feature-packed wearable that allows you to track and stay in touch with your children. It boasts support for LTE, video calls, and has its own voice assistant, but it's expensive and we had issues.
Mobile

Is Sony’s smartphone business dead or can it be revived?

After its worst quarter ever, where Sony Mobile shipped less than 1 million smartphones for the first time, the future looks decidedly bleak. Can Sony’s smartphone business be turned around, or is it time to call it?
Health & Fitness

We spit in a ton of test tubes to find the best and most unique DNA tests

DNA tests aren’t just limited to ancestry. You can test for your risks for certain diseases, the best workouts and diets for your health and fitness, and more.
Emerging Tech

Artificial tree promises to suck up as much air pollution as a small forest

Startup Biomitech has developed an artificial tree that it claims is capable of sucking up as much air pollution as 368 real trees. It could be a game-changer for cities with limited free space.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Racing drones and robotic ping pong trainers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Mars 2020 rover now has a rotating array of drill bits for sampling Martian rock

Most the key components in the Mars 2020 rover are installed and ready to go. The next phase of construction was to install the bit carousel, an important mechanism for the gathering and sorting of samples from the Martian surface.
Emerging Tech

NASA selects landing site candidates for OSIRIS-Rex to sample asteroid Bennu

Last year, the OSIRIS-REx craft arrived at asteroid Bennu, from which it will collect a sample from the asteroid to be brought back to Earth. Now, the NASA team has selected four potential sites to choose from for the sampling mission.
Emerging Tech

NASA wants to send two more missions to Mars to collect rock samples

With its Mars 2020 mission, NASA hopes to collect samples from the surface of the planet. The challenge is how to get those samples back to Earth. Now, NASA has revealed its plans for two followup missions to Mars.
Emerging Tech

Eric Geusz: Apple engineer by day, spaceship designer by night

An Apple software engineer by day, artist Eric Geusz spends his nights drawing everyday household objects as amazing, science fiction-style spaceships. Check out the impressive results.
Emerging Tech

The black hole at the center of our galaxy is flaring and no one knows why

At the heart of our galaxy lies a supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. Normally this giant monster is relatively docile, but recently it's been a hotbed of unexpected activity, rapidly glowing 75 times brighter than normal.
Emerging Tech

SpaceIL’s crashed lander may have sent thousands of tardigrades to the moon

When the SpaceIL craft Beresheet crashed into the moon earlier this year, it left more than just an impact mark. Thousands of micro-animals called tardigrades were along for the ride and may have survived the crash.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s satellite projects will study the sun using solar sailing

Small satellites can be used for all sorts of purposes, and NASA has been searching for ideas to push ahead the capabilities of the hardware. The agency has announced two new projects to demonstrate the potential of small satellites.