How many times have you headed out the door in the morning and realized you forgot to plug your phone in to charge overnight? Or spent the day exchanging important texts or e-mails, only to have your phone die in the middle of a conversation?
Imagine being able to recharge your device's battery in just seconds. If an invention recognized in Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair reaches the mass market, it could soon be possible.
Could Power Cars, Too
Eesha Khare, 18, won a $50,000 scholarship from the chipmaking giant at last week's fair in Phoenix, Ariz., for a "supercapacitor" that can not only charge a cell phone battery in 20 to 30 seconds but can last 10 times longer than a traditional battery. The supercapacitor, which sounds like a device that would power the time-traveling car in "Back To The Future," has so far only lit up an LED test light, however.
"With the rapid adoption of portable electronics, Eesha Khare, 18, of Saratoga, Calif., recognized the crucial need for energy-efficient storage devices," Intel said in a statement announcing the winners. "She developed a tiny device that fits inside cell phone batteries, allowing them to fully charge within 20-30 seconds. Eesha's invention also has potential applications for car batteries."
Battery life is a key concern of consumers who are increasingly data hungry, gearing up with apps that not only raise their bill but drain their devices' batteries. Little progress has been made in drastically increasing energy storage, which has led manufacturers to focus their efforts instead on processors that better manage how the battery is used and which cores to shut down when not needed.
The ability to quickly recharge could be as useful as extending charge life and save heavy device users from having to carry spare batteries or even spare devices while on the go.
"This does look promising," said Weston Henderek, a mobile devices analyst at Current Analysis.
"It could eventually be a major breakthrough. Battery charging technology is certainly one of the key roadblocks that the mobile industry has faced," Henderek told us. "In fact, if you look at the pace of innovation in other areas, battery life/charging is probably the area that has lagged [behind] all others. However, while this looks promising, it could end up being something that is still far off into the future."
Intel's top honor, the Gordon E. Moore Award, with its $75,000 scholarship, went to Ionut Alexandru Budisteanu, 19, of Romania, who designed an artificial intelligence system for a self-driving car. It includes 3-D radar and mounted cameras that Intel says could could detect traffic lanes and curbs, as well as track the real-time position of the car, and costs only $4,000.
Another winner of $50,000, Henry Wanjune Lin, 17, of Shreveport, La., discovered data that allows scientists to "better understand the mysteries of astrophysics, including dark matter, dark energy and the balance of heating and cooling in the universe's most massive objects."