Monday, 9 September 2013
The Solar-Powered Phone That Never Dies
You've done it before; we all have... You forget to charge your mobile phone overnight, then leave home the next morning hoping and praying you have enough battery power to make it through the day. However, what if you didn't have to worry about it? What if you had a mobile phone that was constantly being charged by ambient light?
That's the aim of a joint venture between TCL Communications and SunPartner; a venture that is currently working on a prototype that will hopefully lead to full production by sometime next year. Their never-dying phone will convert both natural sunlight and artificial light into usable electricity to prevent the phone from going completely dark.
Known as Wysips, the technology converts light into usable electricity using a combination of lenses and photovoltaic crystals mounted on the phone's surface. Moreover, because it can use both natural and artificial light, it is still useful even when cloud cover is blocking direct sunlight.
If the two companies can produce a commercial product that is both viable and affordable for consumers, it could prove to be the next big wave in mobile phone technology. Yet viability and affordability are bigger obstacles than they would appear.
The biggest downside to Wysips it the same problem common with all photovoltaic technologies: inefficiency. As it stands, the current incarnation of the new phone converts 10 minutes of light into 4 minutes of usable electricity. That's certainly enough for someone whose phone usage is not that heavy. However, for a consumer who uses the mobile phone for everything, that rate of efficiency may not be able to keep up. The other thing to remember is that the mobile phone will need to remain out rather than placed in a pocket or handbag.
Unless something changes, Wysips will not likely replace standard overnight charging at home. Nevertheless, it will be a handy feature to have for emergency purposes. SunPartner expects to be able to adapt technology for tablets and smart wristwatches as well.
The Wysips charging component is manufactured as a nearly transparent screen, which is placed on top of the phone, tablet, or watch. Just like a larger photovoltaic solar collector/converter, the screen collects light from just about any source and converts it into electricity. That electricity is then sent to the device's battery.
As far as the end-user is concerned, there would be virtually no change to the day-to-day operation of the specific device. Whenever a phone needs to be charged, for example, the user would simply leave it out where it will be exposed to the light. When it's time to make a call or send a text message, everything works as normal.
It will be interesting to see if SunPartner and TCL can design and build a final product that consumers will want. If so, what else can this technology be used for? We'll just have to wait and see what the R&D team comes up with...