No battery? That’s no problem for the future Internet of Things #IoT #InternetOfThings @BulletinAtomic
Experts have forecast that by 2035, over a trillion connected devices will make up the so-called Internet of Things. All those devices will need power, and batteries are an incredibly environmentally destructive energy source. The mining of lithium—a key element in today’s rechargeable batteries—uses excessive amounts of water and, in some cases, has displaced indigenous tribes whose members live on top of the valuable resource. Also, when batteries die, they leach toxins into and out of the municipal landfills where they too often wind up.
The field is called “intermittent computing,” it attempts to solve that problem. The ultra-low power devices Josiah Hester builds—including a prototype batteryless Gameboy powered by the game’s button presses plus solar energy—must be able save what they’re doing in milliseconds when they lose power and restart instantly when they get more juice. That requires innovations such as operating systems and software that can handle frequent power losses, new types of non-volatile memory, low-power screens, and innovative new ways to generate energy.
Hester calls the Gameboy project an example of “design provocation,” a way to encourage the development of new and creative solutions to big problems. “You do things like the Gameboy like, ‘look, this is possible.’ Because the general population just has no idea that this is possible. They just accept, as the default, batteries. So, you show them a different way.”
Now, Hester says he’s seeing a sea change brought on by the urgency of the climate crisis—an “explosion of interest” and funding support for his alternative solution: tiny, ubiquitous, long-lasting, energy-harvesting sensors and computing devices that don’t need batteries.
Hester plans to keep running a (now rapidly growing) lab where students feel comfortable coming together to design cutting-edge devices that will shape the future of computing.
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