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Imagine a cell phone that has no battery. That means no charging, no failures, no changing batteries. It makes cell phones more easy and reliable to use. It’s a great convenience for all of us in advanced countries.

My dad was a spy in the Cold War, so I heard stories about the Great Seal bug when I was a kid.

But the big pay-off is in poor countries and rural areas, which often lack reliable electricity. The lack of electricity cuts them off from the information age. A cell phone that can operate without a battery would increase the possibilities by orders of magnitude. And once that tech is applied to laptops, you can see that it is a truly bold and world-changing technology.

No Battery Cell Phone from University of Washington

Vamsi Talla, a Research Associate at a lab in the University of Washington, and his colleagues revolutionized the cell phone. Their prototype mobile phone makes calls without using any battery, at all. The device takes power directly from the air. This is an absolute breakthrough.

Mobile phones are incredibly useful and have become a necessity for those who live in developed nations. It’s a medium for communication, entertainment, and information. A lack of basic electricity cuts many rural communities off from all of these capabilities, from checking the weather report to protect crops, to planning a trip to the city to sell wares; without a cell phone, it is simply an impossible task.

Mobile Phones & Backscatter

According to Joshua Smith, the Head of the research lab at the University of Washington, “A cell phone is one of the most useful objects there is. Now imagine if your battery ran out and you could still send texts and make calls.”

Cell phone and a battery with a no sign.
Imagine the implications for rural areas.

The group of researchers from the University of Washington has come up with a method called backscatter. Backscatter is a technique that allows the mobile phone make a call by means of reflecting the incoming radio waves.

The technique was first mastered during the Cold War, with passive bugs for eavesdropping, like the Great Seal Bug. It requires considerably less energy than modern phones.

Smith said that “My dad was a spy in the Cold War, so I heard stories about the Great Seal bug when I was a kid.”

Because backscatter requires less power, the group had to use an old-fashioned analog method of making calls. Researchers developed an analog voice transfer in order to save power. And a base station is a vital medium for the battery-free phone to work.

Talla said that “If you can communicate using analog technology, you’re actually more power efficient.” He added, “Real cell towers have a hundred times as much power, and would increase the range to perhaps a kilometer.”

The Battery Free Cell Phone

The prototype cell phone has a simple number pad, which is touch-sensitive. It has a small red LED, serving as its only display. The LED flickers briefly every time a key is pressed. The phone is similar to a style of a walky-talky. The user still needs to press a button in order to talk or listen.

The researchers are already coming up with the next leap in the innovation of the project. They want to incorporate a better quality of voice and also an electronic ink screen to allow messaging. Incorporating a camera to take selfies is an idea that is on the table as well. The phone is said to be much cheaper than a normal phone.

The cell phone without a battery is still a prototype but developments are already on their way.