Intel Wants to Make Self-powered Cell Phones

Dennis Faas's picture

Chip maker Intel wants to bring power to your mobile device. At a press event in San Francisco on December 5, Justin Rattner, the company's chief technical officer, unveiled Intel's vision for sensors that "scavenge" the environment for power sources.

Called a Wireless Identification and Sensing Platform (WISP) the technology could continually scan the environment for possible energy sources. The WISP then takes in power through a variety of means, including solar and other light sources, body heat, radiation from cell phone towers, WiFi and television signals -- even the energy produced by using the trackball on a Blackberry could become a power source. (Source:

"These are install-and-forget kind of systems," Rattner said, explaining that the WISP could eventually be the primary and only source of energy for devices. However, at the moment Intel envisions a hybrid system where devices last longer without having to be recharged via a conventional electrical power source. (Source:

The ongoing research at Intel laboratories is part of the company's efforts to make headway into so-called green energy. With all the major tech companies looking for green alternatives -- and innovations such as the One Laptop Per Child program's XO laptop powered via hand crank -- self-powered consumer devices are something of a Holy Grail for green tech.

As more businesses and households look for environmentally-friendly alternatives to conventional technologies, moderately priced devices that don't put a dent on the power bill each month would no doubt become wildly popular.

Currently, Intel is testing the technology with sensors placed on street sweepers in Berkeley California. The sensors are powered by the vehicle's heat and then gather data on environmental conditions throughout the city. The data is then transmitted for analysis, giving city officials a heads-up on urban conditions such as fires, gas leaks, and poor air quality.

Though promising, Rattner warned that the technology is not ready for consumer use yet and estimates it will take at least another two years before a hybrid powered device hits the market. The CTO also outlined other possible applications for the future including PCs, hospital equipment and much further down the road self-powered micro robots that could be injected into the human body to look for or monitor disease. (Source:

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