“I recently went to the hardware store and … bought some batteries, but they weren’t included. So I had to buy them again.”
Steven Wright, comedian
I’ve mentioned before that one of the reasons I so much like Marvel comics, versus DC, is that the Marvel superheroes [which are of course all real] have very human failings. Whether physical, psychological or emotional, they are all plagued by some form of demon. In the movie Daredevil, my favorite scene was when this blind superhero came back from an evening of fighting criminals, and took a handful of Percocets from his bathroom cabinet. Simply put, just like anyone else, he was in pain from being beaten up, despite his super-strength and agility.
The superhero Ironman is a very interesting character. First of all, everyone knows his identity as the very non-superpowered Tony Stark. Also, for many years in the comics, he was totally dependent on a magnet that sat over his chest and prevented shrapnel from piercing his heart. His chest plate included the power source for his entire suit, but was most importantly the battery which powered the magnet which kept him alive. Hardly a Superman–style hero type. Also, it was very clear that Tony Stark’s own personality was often his Achilles’s heel. But that is for another time.
Battery technology continues to be a major area of research, that despite decades of work and many billions of dollars in funds, has failed to produce long-lasting, huge-charge batteries. As an old expression goes, “we can send a man to the moon, but we can’t …”, design a battery that will keep our smart phone running for a year at a time. Being able to keep the mobile devices powered is now becoming even more urgent, as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes so widespread.
I have discussed IoT in previous blogs, but let me just mention that the concept here, is to have freestanding devices all in constant communication with each other and a central base. The central base may be a physical device which is near to all the other devices, or it may be a program and the database in the cloud. In any case, having to run a wire from every device to a wall socket effectively ruins a great deal of the experience.
Ideally, you should be able to purchase an IoT device, come home, take the device out of the box and just place it anywhere you wish. On its own, the device should talk to every other IoT device in the house, and become part of the entire digital experience that the owner has. but if you need to plug in the new device, you are limited in your selection of location, which might even affect function. If batteries were able to power a device for even a month at a time, charging of the device would be an annoyance but tolerable, given the functionality that you get in return.
In the medical world, batteries are critical to the continuing function of life-saving devices like implanted pacemakers. Changing the battery on a pacemaker is by no means trivial. There are different technologies that allow for transdermal [through the skin] charging of these batteries. But they are not commonplace and they have their own issues. If a pacemaker battery could last 50 years, it would change the entire patient’s reality.
The size of the battery is also a major factor in its use in various devices. Most people are aware of the fact that the battery in our mobile phones accounts for a significant amount of the weight of the entire device. More so, the battery may very well be a significant portion of the width of the device. Although present-day phones are incredibly thin, it would be far better to be able to have a phone that is half its present weight, half its present thickness, and only requiring a recharge once a year. Considering that many people change their phones every year to three years, the dream is to have a battery that makes it unnecessary to ever charge the phone. Considering the number of mobile phones in the world, this would likely help us as a world to save energy and resources.
In the developing world, long-lasting batteries could eliminate an entire range of problems related to access to electricity. Many medical facilities in the developing world do not have running water or electricity. Understandably, this dramatically limits those things that these clinics can do to help their patients. Imagine now that such a facility would be provided with a huge battery that could literally run an entire medical clinic for an extended period of time, especially when you include the hoped-for add-on of solar charging. With sufficient power, such a facility could even have a water purifying station. Simply put, with power, the imagination can run wild.
With better batteries, electric cars become far more practical. Imagine once again in the developing world, 3-D printing a car, and then powering it with a battery that is the size of a briefcase. And this battery would be enough for a month of use. How strange it is that the concept of 3-D printing a car is already well accepted, but long-lasting batteries are still a dream.
The day will come when some laboratory will finally create a marketable battery that is dramatically better than anything on the market. If this battery utilizes a whole new technology, I could easily see the developers winning a Nobel Prize. Battery technology will eventually change the entire world for the better. I can’t think of something else that is more deserving of international recognition and praise.
Thanks for listening