Why Mobile Device Batteries Need a Positive Charge

One of the biggest frustrations with today’s technology begins with batteries. While computing processing power is advancing at a furious rate, batteries seem to creep forward. This leaves many devices, particularly smartphones, mired in mediocrity—and in desperate need of battery cases and an array of fixes in order to get through the day.

The Apple Watch, a remarkable device, suffers from a near fatal flaw: it can’t go more than about 24 hours without a recharge. That just doesn’t work for most people. Especially when you consider that a regular watch can tick on for months or years. Electric vehicles are severely limited by their range and the lack of recharging stations.

Since the dawn of the digital age, researchers have explored all sorts of possibilities, including lithium ion electrode systems and batteries built with carbon nanotube ultra capacitors that store energy in completely different ways than current lithium ion batteries. Researchers in South Korea have even introduced 3-D printable batteries that allows batteries to take on different shapes, including ultrathin versions that bend. This could impact wearable technology over the next few years. However, it seems that these and other emerging technologies fail to deliver the revolutionary breakthrough that’s desperately needed.

In the coming years, the limitations will be felt acutely in areas such as connected devices and the Internet of things. Bridges, roads, tunnels, agricultural ground sensors and a spate of other objects and things require systems that can operate for years—or for the lifespan of the device—in order to deliver the returns that will drive real-world results.

One possibility is the development of more advanced nonvolatile random access memory (NVRAM), which in its current incarnation exists in solid state drives (SSD). However, as David Andersen, an associate professor in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University puts it: “The ability to place sense-and-resume features into chips—essentially turn them on and off as needed—could change the stakes.” The challenge right now, he notes, is to produce solid state devices “insanely cheap” and ensure that they work over the long-term.

Intel and HP are both hard at work in this space. MIT and Samsung are also developing smaller, more powerful and dependable electrolyte batteries. There’s also talk among automakers of introducing fuel-cell technology in cars. BMW and Mercedes are reportedly eying the technology.

CIOs should keep an eye on this space. The future of technology innovation—along with numerous business and consumer products—hinges on the ability to develop and deploy new and better batteries—and how business executives put them to work.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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