The New York Times recently published a story about the death of the gadget. For years, companies have been churning out gadget after gadget to meet specific needs from GPS navigation to health tracking, but the tide has finally turned. Gadget sales are down, companies are going out of business. People are no longer looking to have a house full of gadgets and one major reason is that smartphones can now replace almost all of them.
In a way, that's great. No more superfluous gadgets being made that ultimately end up as e-waste, but it also means that we use our phones for far more tasks than ever and that means we spend more time charging our phones. Many people find they need to carry a back-up battery even on typical days.
But what it we could accomplish all of our tasks: read news, send messages, take photos and more all while those very actions powered our phone? That's the idea behind a new technology from Michigan State University that could soon bring us phones powered by finger swipes.
The researchers created a film-like nanogenerator device that can be folded to generate even more power. When touched, swiped or pressed, the film produces electricity. The team was able to successfully power an LCD touch screen, a bank of 20 LED lights and a flexible keyboard with the device and without the use of a battery.
“We’re on the path toward wearable devices powered by human motion,” said Nelson Sepulveda, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and lead investigator of the project.
“What I foresee, relatively soon, is the capability of not having to charge your cell phone for an entire week, for example, because that energy will be produced by your movement."
The device, called a biocompatible ferroelectret nanogenerator, or FENG, consists of a silicon wafer layered with thin sheets of silver, polyimide and polypropylene ferroelectret, all environmentally-friendly materials. Ions are added to each layer so that they contain charged particles. When the device is compressed, electricity is generated.
The device has the thickness of sheet of paper and is flexible enough to be folded. In fact, folding it exponentially increases the amount of voltage it creates. The device that powered the LCD screen was folded to the size of a finger.
Beyond finger-powered smartphones, the researchers are also looking at developing a similar technology that could be put into the heel of shoe and produce power from walking. That power could then wirelessly be sent to charge Bluetooth wearables like headphones.
You can see the technology in action below in this foldable keyboard the team made.