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Harvesting the Power All Around Us: Keeping Pace with Rapid Developments in Battery Technology?

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Disruptive Change- Battery TechnologyIn Star Trek, energy sources are abundant and range from dilithium crystals (critical for warp drive) and trilithium (star-destroying power) to antimatter and the vibrations and aura energy emanating from humans themselves. In the episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” The U.S.S. Enterprise intercepts and picks up two humanoids, Lokai and Bele, both from the planet Cheron. Star Trek fans may remember these two characters by their distinctive feature of being half black and half white, separated straight down their bodies. The two are inverse images of each other and are deeply embroiled in a long standing feud of bigotry. The problem for the Enterprise? The aliens’ innate powers radiate as they fight, creating an energy aura so powerful it will destroy the ship. Kirk leaves them to chase each other down on their now-desolate home world.

Companies without the vision and tools to respond to change and adopt new technologies quickly lose in this competitive high tech market whose pace of change is breath-taking.

While many things in Star Trek are fantastical and beyond our abilities or the realities of physical science, some energy sources forecasted in the series may be coming true. While we can’t travel at the speed of warp, we may soon be surrounded by devices that charge continually and even wirelessly using vibrations in the air and signals given off by surrounding environs. With wearable devices and continued expansion of smart phones, tablets and other easily carried devices (carryables?), the demand for battery sources small, flexible, stable and longer-lasting is growing.

The New York Times recently highlighted the new rage of battery development with the race to the next battery sources being led by both supergiant companies like Apple and Samsung as well as innovative startups and research institutions. Much like the previous race for memory card formats, the heady development stage does not yet tell us which battery power sources will triumph for the twenty-first century. And, most likely, a variety of forms will be adopted, based on the device requirements of form and function.

What does this mean for OEMs? Keeping pace with developments and determining when a new power source becomes viable and suited for the products in consideration. Tomorrow, we could all be wearing smart watches powered by the swing of our arms or the harvesting of signals swirling around us.