Photo via jurvetson via Flickr CC
So far, kinetic charging for cell phones has been confined to the realm of external chargers (which are only now starting to be actually useful) and concept designs for futuristic phones. But Nokia looks to be taking piezoelectric charging for cell phones seriously. The company has filed a patent for a cell phone - patent application 20,100,045,241 - that will charge up based on the movement of the user. Could this be the start of the next generation of renewable energy cell phones? IntoMobile raves that this "may just be one of the most important documents of this century."
The patent's abstract states:
A battery for an electronic device is contained within a first frame that is coupled to a second frame by one or more piezoelectric elements. The second frame is coupled to a device chassis by one or more additional piezoelectric elements. In response to translation and/or rotation of the electronic device, portions of forces induced by the battery mass are transferred to the piezoelectric elements. Electrical energy output by these piezoelectric elements is received in a power controller and can be applied to the battery. Additional device components can also be contained within the first frame so as to increase the total mass that induces forces applied to the piezoelectric elements.
What the patent boils down to, as New Scientist lays out, is Nokia would create a cell phone with heavier components in a strong frame, which would sit two sets of rails, one allows it travel up and down, the other side to side. As the user walks around or jostles the phone, the frame bumps against strips of piezoelectric crystals at the end of each rail and generates a current, which then charges a capacitor that keeps the phone's battery topped off.
It wouldn't be a complete solution to keeping batteries charged, but is a way to supplement power enough that needing to charge from an outlet would be reduced - possibly significantly if the user is active enough.
Pointing out that this could be the perfect option for people in developing nations with limited access to electricity, IntoMobile writes, "...imagine people in Africa, India, and other emerging economies using a device that can charge itself as they go about their day. They walk to school, walk to work, walk to the river to fetch water, etc., they don't need to walk to the man with a car batter strapped to the back of a bicycles, charging for electricity anymore."
While that's true, the bulk of energy consumption for devices lays in the developed world, particularly the United States. Off-grid charging options would be more useful here, where coal fired power plants do the dirty work of refilling the hundreds of millions of rapidly depleted smart phone batteries.
A patent like this means the beginning of exploring how kinetic energy can factor into our electronics in a real, tangible way. But it will be a long time before we're walking around with cell phones that don't need to be plugged into the wall - or the sun - to power up.
More on Kinetic Power and Cell Phones
Renewably-Powered Cell Phones are Cool, But Realistic?
CES 2010 - YoGen Makes a Splash in Pull-String Charging (Video)
World's First Mechanical Cell Phone Modeled After Watches