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Power Hardware Technology Science

Self-Powered Parts Are the Future 101

Posted by timothy
from the just-make-the-factory-self-powering dept.
bossanovalithium writes that an umbrella group including Japanese heavyweights like Panasonic and Toyota is working on bringing the price of self powered parts down to levels where they can be mass produced: "The idea is that the parts will make external power sources redundant — because they can convert energy from body heat, light and vibrations straight into electricity. Self powered electronics have already sporadically been used in technology like wall-mount remote control units for air conditioners, says Nikkei, but existing parts are bulky and cost a couple thousand yen a piece. 3,000 yen is about $35 — which means they're not the best bet, financially, yet."
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Self-Powered Parts Are the Future

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  • by macraig (621737)

    ... for the coming wave of self-powered penis enhancement spam.

  • by golden age villain (1607173) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:01PM (#33489524)
    I can't wait to see all the iPhone 5 owners shaking their phones to power them all the while gripping them with two fingers to keep a decent reception. This is exactly how I envisioned the future.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by anguirus.x (1463871)
      At least until someone releases "Bust A Charge" that has users perform gestures while holding the phone resembling dance steps, and thus recharging the phone.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        actually, that sounds like an awesome future! imagine walking the streets of new york surrounded by a constant disco rave

      • Sounds like a tribal dance for speaking to the Gods.

      • It reminds me of some old movie I saw. I don't remember the name, but there was an elevator. And in the elevator the people had to dance to make the elevator go.
    • by houghi (78078)

      shaking their phones to power

      This would be awkward if you are a teacher: Honestly officer, I was just charging my phone, not doing what you think I did.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by maxwell demon (590494)

        On the positive side, people suffering from Parkinson disease will never experience an empty battery.

        • And they'll be way more employable. Oh, my phones out of power, here's $5 if you'll hold my phone for 5 minutes.

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by davester666 (731373)

            Alternately, you use the phone's flash to trigger an epileptic seizure and then insert phone into epileptic's pocket...

    • by coogan (850562)
      Hmmm "vibrations straight into electricity" - so in the case of vibrators we could possibly prove perpetual motion and the like?
    • I don't know, my watch [seikowatches.com] has been working just fine with the same motion, minus the grip of death.

      • I had to replace the capacitor in mine after about five years. Did you have the same problem? Its been about eight years on the new capacitor and it seems to be fading again, but not enough for me to want to replace it.

        Of course the kinetic watch, and movement powered torches, are bad examples because they are both much more bulky than they need to be. Additionally they are fragile because of the large moving masses they contain.

    • This is exactly what I dreamed the future to be when I was a kid - holding a pocket-sized device in each hand while dancing the maracas like the titular monkey from Samba De Amigo
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:08PM (#33489586)

    Things that don't need a lot of power yet are always in movement and/or attached to the body? The only thing that meets that criteria is a watch. They've been self-winding for decades.

    If there's enough power in the environment to power useful electronic devices above the level of a watch or a remote (that's used maybe twice a day), then we'd be on fire.

    Nothing to see here. This is about as useful as a Space Nutter thread.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:28PM (#33489768) Journal

      If there's enough power in the environment to power useful electronic devices above the level of a watch or a remote (that's used maybe twice a day), then we'd be on fire.

      I used to have a pocket calculator that was powered by a small solar panel. The power requirements of something like a central heating control are similar. Even the parts are similar: small LCD, simple microcontroller, just the addition of a valve or two to control the water flow.

      My router has a 7W power supply. It is in a 6" square box, so the amount of solar energy hitting it is about three times the amount of electricity that it requires at peak times, although no solar cell will extract anything like that much yet. Still, it's a relatively old design and you could probably do the same thing now in 1-2W, making it a lot more feasible.

      In my nextdoor neighbour's garden, there are a number of self-contained garden lights. They have a solar panel on top, which charges a battery during the day and they discharge at night, so they have no need for an external power source. If there weren't a lot of energy in the environment, then this planet would not have developed a breathable atmosphere.

      • by blincoln (592401)

        They have a solar panel on top, which charges a battery during the day and they discharge at night, so they have no need for an external power source.

        But they do require periodic replacement of the rechargeable batteries. Am I the only one that (for non-portable devices, like garden lights) would rather pay less than $5 upfront for an AC adapter instead of about $3 every 6-12 months on batteries?

        • by tftp (111690)
          I use solar garden lights not because they are cheaper but because there is no cable.
        • by iamhassi (659463)
          "instead of about $3 every 6-12 months on batteries?"

          citation needed: why do the rechargeable batteries require replacing every 6-12 months? After being charged 180-360 times (full charge each day) they can't hold a charge anymore?

          Modern NiMH rechargeable batteries like Sanyo Eneloop [amazon.com] retain 85% of full capacity even after a year in storage and can charge up to 1,000 times without experiencing any memory effect while only costing $2.50 a battery. I wouldn't mind replacing the batteries every 3 years
          • Modern NiMH rechargeable batteries like Sanyo Eneloop [amazon.com]

            I ran down a similar link last time this discussion came around. Long-story-short: Duracell has licensed the same technology and they're easily available at WalMart or similar. 'Pre-charged' rechargables are the marketing lyric to look for. Strangely enough they're not very well marketed themselves (probably would cut into the main business too much).

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              Duracell "Pre-charged" made in japan are the same, Duracell "Pre-charged" made in China are not. Even the Rayovac "Hybrids" are better han the Chinese Duracell "Precharged". Eneloops are the best, but cost the most. I use them and the rayovac hybrids.

              • Duracell "Pre-charged" made in japan are the same, Duracell "Pre-charged" made in China are not.

                Ah, good to know! Thanks.

      • by westlake (615356)

        I used to have a pocket calculator that was powered by a small solar panel. The power requirements of something like a central heating control are similar.

        The central heating control can be powered by the heat of the furnace, if it comes to that. The requirements are trivial. What matters is whether you have enough power to keep the necessary pumps, blowers and relays on-line.

        In my next door neighbour's garden, there are a number of self-contained garden lights.

        The lights are staked and portable.

        You elim

      • If there's enough power in the environment to power useful electronic devices above the level of a watch or a remote (that's used maybe twice a day), then we'd be on fire.

        I used to have a pocket calculator that was powered by a small solar panel. The power requirements of something like a central heating control are similar. Even the parts are similar: small LCD, simple microcontroller, just the addition of a valve or two to control the water flow.

        Speaking of controlling water flow, I've been seeing "solar" powered automatic faucets in public restrooms for a while now. Good call there, to keep from having to replace the batteries every few months, I think.

      • by MobyDisk (75490) *

        In my nextdoor neighbour's garden, there are a number of self-contained garden lights. They have a solar panel on top, which charges a battery during the day and they discharge at night,

        I've seen and purchased several of these devices, and they just go to show how solar powered devices just are not ready yet. Inevitably, they are far dimmer than their electrical counterparts, and only last a few hours past sunset. They slowly die over the course of 1 - 3 years due to cheap panels, poor weatherproofing, and insufficient batteries. The manufacturers know this, so they even use parts that don't last: solar panels protected by plastic covers that turn opaque with time, iron parts that rust,

    • There are plenty of things operating in hot, noisy environments that could use that power. There's a ton of power in those environments, enough to replace the external power source (FTA, more or less). Though, strictly speaking, the most successful of these will probably not be power sources, exactly. They will be engines for removing entropy from a system (e.g. hot air -> geometric mesh -> sound -> electricity).
      • by Belial6 (794905)
        How about car shock absorbers that recharge the car battery. I could be wrong, and I would love to see someone in the know run the numbers, but I would guess that there must be at least as much energy pushed into shock absorbers as there is in a regenerative breaking system.
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        They will be engines for removing entropy from a system

        Or just shift the entropy around, like a lever trades space for power. Creating said engines will increase entropy too.

        I hope you didn't just suggest that you can win the game.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginsberg's_Theorem [wikipedia.org]

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TheLink (130905)
          Well the universe is something for free already.

          Whether you like it or not is a different issue :).
    • Car key (shaking + induction when in contact)
      Central heating thermostat (Day / night temp variations, solar panel)
      Data logger for temperature monitoring in transport of fresh food.
      Pocket calculator
      Keeping the battery topped up of an emergency flash light in car / boat / plane
      Keep single battery lasting "forever", e.g. smoke alarm: detection self powered, the alarm beeper on battery.
    • by jmccay (70985)
      Actually, my work is currently installing hands-free faucets in the bathroom sinks. The sensor battery is recharged with a small water turbine, and you only need to change the battery when it no longer works. Creating more technology like this would be better for the green movement than Al Gore's movie. Although, I doubt it is cheap enough yet for use by everyday folks.
      • Brings to mind a water powered extraction fan I saw a couple of years ago. You can install it in a shower cubicle and have it run the fan whenever the water is flowing, and you don't have to run mains power above a wet area.

    • How about a pacemaker? That sounds far more useful.

  • reminds me of.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lanteran (1883836) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:30PM (#33489798) Homepage Journal
    it reminds me of those clocks that draw mechanical power from changes in temperature and air pressure. If I recall correctly, the reason they never caught on is because people were prone to moving them so much, which caused mechanical failures galore.
    • by jschen (1249578)
      You're thinking of the Atmos clock [wikipedia.org]. I would love to have one someday. I doubt moving it around is much of an issue... it can't be worse than the handling during shipping. They're not that common simply because they're expensive novelties. Few people are willing to pay so much money for a clock, no matter how advanced.
      • by neminem (561346)
        Just as long as they don't start working on developing the technologies for car engines... if they do, someone might want to check to make sure their lead engineer didn't start a school for geniuses, and that there aren't any Sontarans involved.
    • by MobyDisk (75490) *

      And they never produced enough power. My parents owned one and it always ran too slowly.

  • I can see it now. Dropping the remote to my TV will soon be necessary for proper function which is certainly a step up. Currently, when the remote is dropped, I have spend 5 minutes hunting for the batteries that have fallen out and fallen under the couch.

  • So the Umbrella Corporation from Japan is conducting experiments to convert human energy into electricity?

    Yeah, this will end well.

    (Then again - if we end up with a Milla v. Carrie-Ann Moss girl-on-girl scene, who am I to complain?)

  • They aren't the future. They're just another niche product that makes sense for a few particular applications.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hitmark (640295)

      Depends. Consider a medical implant using this and the recent bluetooth 4 standard for low power connectivity to ever so often send some status out. Perhaps someone with diabetes could get a running count on their blood sugar, rather then having to prick their finger ever so often. Or we could be looking at a grid of low power sensors that use the same to send updates to a hub that use some kind of data connection (perhaps sat phone) to keep a record of conditions in a remote area. Thing is we do not know h

      • by Kohath (38547)

        Those are definitely a few niche products.

        I know people who design medical devices and one of my friends was working on self-powered devices for his PhD project. They definitely have a set of potential uses.

        Still, they're not "the future" and shouldn't be over-hyped.

      • by tftp (111690)

        Perhaps someone with diabetes could get a running count on their blood sugar, rather then having to prick their finger ever so often.

        You can power the implanted sensor with magnetic field from the reader. This is what RFID uses (or most electrical toothbrushes.) A more difficult problem is to keep the sensor clean, since the blood tends to clot.

    • They aren't the future. They're just another niche product that makes sense for a few particular applications.

      I dunno... Look around you at all the various battery-powered devices you've got. How many of those are completely stationary? How many of them actually get picked up and moved around fairly often?

      Remote controls for various devices... Cell phones... MP3 players... Game controllers... Cordless mice... Cordless phones... Flashlights...

      Sure, right now the technology is generally awkward and unusable. Devices generally draw too much power, so you have to recharge them fairly often... And the chargin

      • by Kohath (38547)

        How long before simply picking up your remote control to change the channel generates enough electricity to keep it charged and working for a day or two? Until simply carrying your MP3 player or phone around is enough to keep it up and running forever?

        For my remote, I can get 8 AAA batteries at the dollar store for $1. That's like a 3 year supply.

        For MP3 players and phones, you obviously don't know how they work or how much power they use or how much power is available through energy harvesting and similar techniques. It's similar to wishing for a 300 MPG car. The energy equations don't work out.

        • For MP3 players and phones, you obviously don't know how they work or how much power they use or how much power is available through energy harvesting and similar techniques. It's similar to wishing for a 300 MPG car. The energy equations don't work out.

          Sure, right now the technology is generally awkward and unusable. Devices generally draw too much power, so you have to recharge them fairly often... And the charging process generally requires fairly vigorous motion... But power requirements get lower, and generation efficiency gets higher...

          The fact of the matter, whether you like it or not, is that technology changes.

          Go back a few years and we only had CRT's - massive things that wouldn't even fit in today's portable devices. And they drew plenty of power. Then we had LCD's... And now we've got OLED's that use even less power.

          Used to be we needed spinning disks to store data, lots of energy wasted to produce mechanical motion that didn't really get us anywhere. Now we've got flash instead - no moving parts, lower power usage.

          Hell, just lo

          • by Kohath (38547)

            I like it just fine. But hype is misleading, often to the point of being a lie. There are things we can actually do to actually make improvements. We don't need some kind of pie-in-the-sky. Improvements are incentive enough.

            And sometimes (often), technical improvements aren't worth the cost. I don't need $20 worth of energy harvesting technology in my remote control to save me $2 in batteries.

            Then someone improves it some more, and then some more, and the $20 technology has dropped to $1 and it becomes

      • by Kohath (38547)

        On second thought, it might possibly work for a screenless MP3 player like the iPod shuffle. But never for a phone.

  • And here I've been hearing 'children are the future'. Those little bastards make noise, eat food, get sick and all kinds of annoyances. So good to know we'll have parts instead of children.

    Wait a second. These wouldn't happen to be *children* parts, would they? Low maintenance is great, but self-assembly? It'd take away the only fun part about them -- making 'em.

    • Children do self-assemble, except for the initial cell.

      • by DynaSoar (714234)

        Children do self-assemble, except for the initial cell.

        Then I wasted two decades shoveling raw material in front of and into a couple of them, as well a spending half my waking life acquiring the means to obtain those raw materials?

        Mine must be defective. They seemed to operate more on the principle of maximizing local entropy.

        • Children do self-assemble, except for the initial cell.

          Then I wasted two decades shoveling raw material in front of and into a couple of them, as well a spending half my waking life acquiring the means to obtain those raw materials?

          No. Self-assembly does not mean self-production of the raw materials or energy. Self-assembly only means the self-construction from given materials, using given energy. If computers were self-assembling, you'd e.g. not put more memory in, but you'd put in raw silicon (and other needed raw substances), and your computer would transform that silicon into memory by itself. It would not produce that silicon itself, nor would it produce its own energy out of nothing.

  • ...an umbrella group...

    Anyone else read that and immediately think of zombies?

  • Why does an umbrella need energy in the first place? You just unfold it by hand!
    • by bar-agent (698856)

      Why does an umbrella need energy in the first place? You just unfold it by hand!

      How can you Internet-enable the umbrella without electricity?

      "Stans-brella tweets: I am wide open and so very wet. #notwhatyouthink #weathersucks"

      Although, in seriousness, I suppose an umbrella might give you better reception on a Wifi hotspot or something.

  • I was told if you get a large, sealed tub, you can drop dirty clothes, soap, and water in before you road trip and after a certain amount of time the agitation inside the tub will scrub your clothes clean. I haven't tried this yet but once I get my old diesel rabbit running again maybe ill just leave the old shocks on there and try it out.
    • by RobVB (1566105)

      Adding a large tub full of water to your car probably doesn't save any energy at all. If you do try this, see what it does to your gas mileage.

  • by Joebert (946227)
    At this rate we're going to evolve dicks that suck themselves before we get flying cars.
  • > an umbrella group [...] working on [...] self powered parts

    I suppose they're looking at using something called a T-bacterium in their components ?

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