Categories Technology

Battery Technology

Nothing much has been happening lately. When, oh when, will battery technology take the next great leap?

Isn’t it wonderful to be living in a time when technological progress is leading to ever-faster computers, ever-smaller devices and gadgets that are even more versatile? Moore’s Law, the trusty old rule that says that computing power doubles every two years, practically assures us that at any point in time, electronic devices that are powered by microchips-including laptops, MP3 players, and mobile phones-will become even more powerful two years down the line.

Doggone it. I’d be cheering on this technological assault, if only these dramatic progressions were matched by similar leaps in battery technology, which have been practically nil lately.

The last major development in mobile power was Lithium-Ion Polymer batteries (thank you, Sony), which provided a dramatic upgrade from NiMH battery packs by offering greater power storage and smaller form factors. But that was that. Since then, there has barely been a hiccup of dramatic innovation in the battery biz.

I rant because I have a mobile phone that, even with its Lithium-Ion battery pack, demands a recharge every other day on average. I rant because the battery pack of my two-year-old Fujitsu Life book, which started out with 3.5 hours of battery life, is now giving me just an hour’s worth of juice before caving in (and Fujitsu batteries are notoriously expensive, argh). I rant because these days, battery packs now represent the bulk of the weight for most mobile devices.

Is there any reprieve in sight? Right now, no, other than for us to speculate and cross our fingers and hope for some radical new technology that will come out of nowhere, offering amazing energy storage in some mind-bogglingly tiny form factor. Current battery technologies have practically peaked, with very minimal room for incremental improvements in their performance envelopes. Translation: we’ve just about squeezed all that we can from what’s currently out there.

However, if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain…

Devices are now becoming more energy efficient, which is the alternate solution to the lack of battery progress. If batteries won’t improve, then let’s just make our devices more energy-friendly. This is why, for instance, an iPod Nano can last for 13 hours of playtime (theoretically, mind you). In addition, mobile phones that cut down on unnecessary battery-draining features would last far longer than those with all sorts of bells and whistles.

And laptops? The three big power hogs are the processor, the LCD screen, and the hard drive. New processors are now addressing the power issue, and we can expect an upcoming slew of processors to be more energy-efficient. New technologies are about to kick in for LCD screens as well, as manufacturers move from power-hungry fluorescent backlighting to more efficient LED ones. Better yet, researchers are now coming out with reflective screens that need no backlighting at all. And as for hard drives, a couple of years down the road, expect to see the first mainstream laptops that come with power-efficient flash drives rather than hard disks. When this happens, you’ll really be seeing the onset of wafer-thin laptops that can last literally for days on a single battery charge.

We’ll have to wait it out, though. In the meantime, we’re stuck with our daily recharging routines. Hang on; I gotta plug my laptop now before I lose my work…


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