Kirigami-inspired solar panels
The ancient art is inspiring the design of solar cells so they can change shape to catch the sun
Electronic devices long ago dispensed with cables transmitting information. Now, their power supply could follow the same path.
Disaster looms. Alarm bells are ringing. This morning everything started out smoothly, but a few unexpected phone calls have pushed things to the brink. There are only a couple of minutes left before the system shuts down. In a desperate attempt, she runs into a cafe and, while ordering a cup of coffee to remain unnoticed, she asks, “Is there an outlet where I can charge my smartphone?” Indeed, this kind of anxiety, which afflicts a large number of smartphone users, has already been described as low battery syndrome. One of its symptoms is that users start to panic when their phone falls below the 20% threshold. Increasingly powerful phones, having higher res screens and sleeker designs with each iteration, prove to be the perfect storm to undermine the battery life of even the most sophisticated devices. Some phones already provide wireless charging technologies, although they need to be in contact with the charger’s surface, an inductive pad. However, if wireless batteries could be charged remotely and we had a populated network of transmitters, we could enjoy a host of constantly charged devices. Not only mobile phones, but also wearables, watches, and remote-control systems. Ossia, an American company, could pave the way to that electrical utopia.
In the latest edition of the CES tech show in Las Vegas, Hatem Zeine, the physicist who founded the startup back in 2008, presented a new wireless battery technology under the name of Cota Forever Battery, which intends to usher in an era of perpetually charged batteries. Ossia’s plan is to add a wireless receptor to each battery, which could then be charged wirelessly from a transmitter, the Cota Tile. One of the novelties of this technology is that it makes use of the 2.4 Ghz spectrum, the same as Bluetooth devices. Thus, electricity can be sent through walls and other obstacles.
The transmitter in each battery relays a signal one hundred times per second to the charging station, which can be installed anywhere around the home. By using thousands of antennae, the station can triangulate the exact location of the device and send an RF signal towards it. Currently, only one device can be charged at a time, with the system prioritizing the needs of different devices within its range. In the long run, once the chipsets have been conveniently miniaturized, the manufacturer plans to embed them in mobile phones. Currently, Ossia has created a set of wireless AA batteries with the same size and power as conventional ones, which can be used to power any device that uses this type of battery.
Transmitting electricity wirelessly has been one of the goals of science for the last century. Nikola Tesla, the renowned inventor, was one of its first researchers with his Wardenclyffe Tower, designed to transmit both information and power over the air. Sadly, it was doomed to be sold off as scrap metal to meet the unsettled debts of the venture. Similarly, Tesla’s coil, also called a resonant transformer, was one of the first prototypes capable of wirelessly transmitting electricity. Tesla’s long-term goal, however, was to develop what he named the World Wireless System, which was to provide electricity for the whole planet. Sadly, despite his claims, Tesla never managed to prove the feasibility of such a large-scale project.