Mobile

Cellphones could be charged by voice chatter — still annoy everyone else

Here’s your daily dose of science: Researchers in South Korea have been working on technology that could turn sound into electricity, something that could potentially let you charge your cellphone while also talking into it, in addition to a multitude of other uses.

Don’t expect this to be a feature on your iPhone 5 (or 6, or 7). But the research shows that there may still be innovative ways to power all of our gadgets that we haven’t yet thought of.

Dr. Sang-Woo Kim, who’s leading the research at the institute of nanotechnology at Sungkyunkwan University, said that the technology is just one of many being explored to gather energy from environments. “The sound that always exists in our everyday life and environments has been overlooked as a source. This motivated us to realize power generation by turning sound energy from speech, music or noise into electrical power,” he told the Telegraph.

In addition to cellphones, there’s also great potential for the technology in noisy environments — Kim brings up the idea of creating sound insulating walls near highways that gather energy from passing traffic.

Here’s how it works: Strands of zinc oxide are sandwiched between two electrodes with a sound absorbing pad on top. The pad vibrates when its hit by sound waves, and the zinc oxide wires compress and release, which generates electrical current.

At the moment, Kim says a prototype of the technology can generate 50 millivolts of electricity from around 100 decibels of noise (about the same as a very loud motorcycle). That’s definitely not enough to power a cellphone yet, but Kim says that it can be used for low-power devices like self-powered sensors and small body implant devices.

Photo via Ed Yourdon

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