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Building a Better Battery

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An untethered battery.

Industry experts suggest small improvements to batteries should be the goal of current research efforts, rather than trying to reinvent the battery entirely.

Credit: Boyoun Kim

Although computer chips have doubled in speed every few years, and digital displays have become significantly brighter and sharper, battery technology has not advanced much since the 20th century. Some industry experts advise focusing on improving batteries by taking small steps rather than trying to reinvent the battery itself.

"Hoping and betting on new battery technology to me is a fool's errand," says former Apple vice president Tony Fadell.

Over the past few years, Apple has hired engineers with expertise in power technology and battery design and has been experimenting with methods to wirelessly charge batteries with magnetic induction and solar energy. Google also has been researching new battery technologies in an attempt to extend the life of smartphones.

Meanwhile, Samsung has been designing new types of batteries for wearable computers; for example, the company has introduced compact curved batteries that can be installed inside wristbands.

Stanford University professor Yi Cui is developing a way to replace the carbon anodes in lithium-ion batteries with silicon.

Meanwhile, University of Washington researchers have been working on a method for wireless devices to communicate without using any battery power; the technique involves harvesting the energy from TV, cellular, and Wi-Fi signals that are already in the air, says Washington professor Shyamnath Gollakota.

From The New York Times
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