Microsoft believes solar panels are the solution to pitifully short smartphone battery lives – but in their bizarre plan it won’t be the sun topping-up your phone, but a narrow beam of light fired from a rotating camera attached to your ceiling
Smartphone battery lives can be a joke: it’s not uncommon to top-up batteries several times a day – and when there isn’t a charger nearby we lose our lifeline in a matter of hours.
Now Microsoft’s Research team in China want to make it easier to charge your handset. So easy, in fact, that it will happen automatically without you even knowing about it.
The company’s scientists have been working on a machine which can spot smartphones and automatically charge them with a focused beam of light. These devices could be fitted in homes, offices and cafes so that, in theory, you may never have to charge your phone manually again.
AutoCharge is a device fitted into the ceiling of a room which has a camera that can spot and identify phones. In the prototype version this camera is actually a Kinect motion sensor designed for the Xbox games console.
When it finds a device that looks like a phone (identification takes just 0.3 seconds, researchers say) it can then fire a narrow beam of light at it.
Compatible AutoCharge phones would come fitted with a solar panel that can seamlessly convert that light back into electricity – and scientists say it would be almost as efficient as a traditional wall charger.
To ensure that a smartphone-shaped object isn’t “charged” the researchers fitted a tiny LED to the prototype AutoCharge phone which can communicate with the ceiling device and tell it if it needs charge or not. If no signal is detected then AutoCharge assumes that the “smartphone” it has identified is either not actually a phone, but something shaped like one, or just a non-compatible handset.
Cleverly, this LED is powered by the solar panel itself, so the device can communicate even if the battery is completely drained.
The researchers explored using electromagnetic radiation rather than light, but found that in the high power levels necessary “safety to human bodies was a big issue”.
“As a result, wireless power is usually used only in extreme scenarios such as in outer space, for military purposes, or in very short ranges. Existing wireless charging pads for smartphones are actually based on electromagnetic induction which is one of wireless power methods and only works within several centimetres,” says the paper written by researchers .
For safety reasons the AutoCharge device constantly monitors to check that it is only firing light at smartphones and not, for example, childrens’ eyes, and immediately shuts off the beam if anything gets between it and the phone. It is also limited in intensity to a level which cannot start fires.
To prevent the system from being annoying – shining a bright beam of light across your bedroom at night, for instance – it could be made to work in parts of the spectrum that are invisible to the human eye, such as infrared.
While the system may seem unusual, Microsoft is a large smartphone manufacturer and has the sway to introduce such a system if it saw fit. The company bought Nokia’s mobile devices division and now produces the Lumia range of phones under its own company name.
This article was written by Matthew Sparkes Deputy Head of Technology from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.