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As long as there have been cellphones, there have been complaints about cellphones’ short battery life. Not only do batteries never seem to last long enough, they invariably die in the middle of an important call.

Researchers at Ohio State University are riding to the rescue. They are announcing a technology they claim will extend your battery life by 30%.

You don’t have to buy a new battery and you don’t need a special kind of cellphone. With modifications, their invention is said to work with any device.

Harnessing radio signals

It works like this: special circuity converts some of the radio signals produced by the device into direct current (DC) power which is routed back to the battery to recharge it. The researchers say the new technology can be built into a cell phone case, without adding more than a small amount of bulk and weight.

“When we communicate with a cell tower or Wi-Fi router, so much energy goes to waste,” said Chi-Chih Chen, research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and one of the inventors. “We recycle some of that wasted energy back into the battery.”

The inventors who came up with this system are all researchers at Ohio State. They’re now working with a spin-off company to fine-tune the technology and will launch a Kickstarter campaign in June to bring the idea to market.

Not a new idea

PhotoThis isn’t necessarily a new idea. There are already some products that capture stray radio signals to charge tiny devices like temperature sensors. But it hasn’t been tried on this scale before, and not to charge a common consumer product like a cellphone.

And there are other differences. For one, the cellphone charger is working with considerably more power.

“These other devices are trying to harvest little bits of energy from the air,” said Robert Lee, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Our technology is based on harvesting energy directly from the source. They can capture microwatts or even nanowatts, but cell phones need milliwatts or higher.”

Lee estimates that nearly 97% of cellphone signals never get to their destination and are simply lost. While not all can be recaptured, some can.

Battery extender

He says the objective is to reduce power consumption by retrieving some of that lost power. Rather than call the technology a battery charger, Lee prefers to think of it as a battery “extender.”

The inventors actually look at their technology as something based on a fairly simple principal, something they should have thought of a long time ago. The basic technology is almost as old as commercial electricity. It relies on the fact that radio waves are actually just a very high-frequency form of electric current.

If you are not using the phone for voice or data – instead, playing a game or listening to downloaded music – the new technology won’t be of any help. The phone needs to be transmitting through the airwaves for the technology to work.

But that’s exactly how most people, in fact, use their phones. Chen and his colleagues believe their as-yet unnamed technology will soon be an indispensable part of everyone’s cellphone, reducing the number of complaints about short battery life.


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