Devices Powered by Sound – The Next Big Mobile Device Innovation

by DeAnna Hoy

As consumers anxiously await the release of Apple’s iPhone 6, innovators in the battery industry continue to develop new technologies for the next generation of smartphones.  Two teams of scientists, from Nokia and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), are working collaboratively to develop an energy-harvesting prototype that could charge mobile phones using sounds such as everyday background noise.

How is this possible? According to Nokia, the answer is through nanotechnology and zinc oxide. Crystalline zinc oxide is a piezoelectric material that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. Scientists from the Nokia/QMUL team transformed zinc oxide into nanorods, suitable to coat almost any surface. When condensed or stretched, these nanorods generate high voltage. To produce a strong enough charge for a mobile device, electrical contacts are placed on both sides of the rods, which transform sound vibrations into energy and capture the charge.

While Nokia and Queen Mary University of London have been experimenting with zinc oxide, so have many others. According to our database, more than 100 zinc oxide battery patents have published in the U.S. in the last two months alone. A quick search for “zinc oxide” and “harvesting energy” revealed more than a dozen patent applications published within the last year focused on energy harvesting and mobile device charging methods.

Image Credit: Nokia

Image Credit: Nokia

After a brief search in the ABC PatentEdge, IP Checkups did not find a published patent application associated with this innovation assigned to Nokia and/or Queen Mary University of London.  Our search did reveal European patent number EP2008317A1, “A METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR HARVESTING ENERGY FROM MECHANICAL VIBRATIONS”, assigned to Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO); however, this patent focuses primarily on electronics, not materials.

Will this experiment of using sound to create energy succeed in time for the next big Microsoft/Nokia phone release?  Or will another company beat them to it? Follow ABC PatentEdge for the latest news and innovations in the battery industry.

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