UW scientists create the first battery-free mobile phone

You might soon see a phone that doesn't need batteries to function

"You could imagine in the future that all cell towers or Wi-Fi routers could come with our base station technology embedded in it", he said.

A special center was designed for the phone to receive and transmit radio signals, and the prototype reportedly requires three and a half microvolt of energy. Shyam Gollakota of the UV said that the research team had to rethink how the phones are made.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

No, it's not magic - the University of Washington's battery-free cellphone can function on just a few microwatts of power it harvests from RF signals coming from a base station around 31 feet away, or from light via a minute solar cell that's about the size of a grain of rice. While not a smartphone, this device could prove to be extremely useful for some, and mark the origin of a battery-less mobile tech industry.

Now this mobile phone requires a custom base station to transmit and receive the radio signals.

The team says that all cell phone towers or Wi-Fi hotspots could easily be fitted with the analog RF signals that this phone requires to operate, which means you would be able to go battery-less almost everywhere.

During testing, the team was able to make a number of Skype calls on the handset made of commercial, off-the-shelf components that can receive and transmit speech and communicate with a base station. "So if there were one device you'd want to be able to use without batteries, it is the cellphone", said Joshua Smith, Professor at University of Washington.

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Though the current system is a laboratory lash up, the researchers believe that the technology could be installed in a standard cellular network or Wi-Fi router to make calls battery-free.

While battery-less, the system still needs about 3.5 microwatts to function. For example, other ambient energy technologies harvest heat or motion, which allows them to soak up power while they are in sleep mode before performing a task.

The removal of the battery requires a different source of energy for the conversion process.

"That's been the biggest challenge - the amount of power you can actually gather from ambient radio or light is on the order of 1 or 10 microwatts", added co-author and electrical engineering doctoral student Bryce Kellogg.

Lead author Vamsi Talla told CBC News that, although the prototype doesn't work exactly like a standard phone, there are a lot of possibilities from a battery-free phone.

Next, the research team plans to focus on improving the battery-free phone's operating range and encrypting conversations to make them secure.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and Google Faculty Research Awards.

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