Good vibrations: the phone that charges when you move

It’s now possible to charge your mobile phone using the natural vibrations that surround it on a daily basis.

A team of engineers from multiple universities have created a nanogenerator to harvest and convert vibration energy from a surface – such as the passenger seat of a moving car – into power for the phone.

The technology could have any number of uses, from being able to charge devices in environments where a regulated power supply is not available – such as disaster zones where power lines have been damaged – to reducing energy use and environmental pollution.

Xudong Wang, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, said the developments could solve the problem of smartphones having to be charged on a frequent basis.

He said: “We believe this development could be a new solution for creating self-charged personal electronics.”

In an age where we are using more and more energy to power devices, homes and electronic products, this development could help to reduce pollution as well as decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.


“We believe this development could be a new solution for creating self-charged personal electronics.”


There are more than 1.5bn smartphones in the world and the average amount of energy it takes to power an iPhone or Android for a year is 1 Kilowatt-hour – equivalent to ten 100-watt incandescent lightbulbs running for an hour.

If introduced to phones in the market, the technology could help to save colossal amounts of power each year. In theory it could also be implemented into other devices but may struggle to be used in static devices that do not experience many vibrations.

In a post on its website the University explained how the team worked around traditional problems: “Rather than relying on a strain or an electrical field, the researchers incorporated zinc oxide nanoparticles into a PVDF thin film to trigger formation of the piezoelectric phase that enables it to harvest vibration energy.

“Then, they etched the nanoparticles off the film; the resulting interconnected pores – called “mesopores” because of their size – cause the otherwise stiff material to behave somewhat like a sponge.”


If introduced to phones in the market, the technology could help to save colossal amounts of power each year.


The team envisage that the nanogenerator, the full name of which is ‘mesoporous piezoelectric nanogenerator,’ could become an important part of electronic devices.

They suggest it could be used as a back panel or casing on the product. This is as well as being able to harvest energy from the surroundings of the device.

Wang says the simplicity of his team’s design and fabrication process could scale well to larger manufacturing settings.

“We can create tunable mechanical properties in the film. And also important is the design of the device because we can realize this structure, phone-powering cases or self-powered sensor systems might become possible.”

Oceanic research steps into the future as sci-fi vessel SeaOrbiter gets funding

The world’s most futuristic-looking research vessel could soon be setting sail after it met its crowdfunding goal of €325,000.

Designed by marine architect Jacques Rougerie, SeaOrbiter will drift with oceanic currents to explore areas of the ocean that have never been studied before.

SeaOrbiter is designed to address the shortage of ocean research that has been undertaken. 90% of the ocean is still unexplored, and it is estimated that two thirds of marine species are yet to be discovered.

Looking like a moveable version of the Operation Hennessey Underwater SeaLab from the film the Life Aquatic, the vessel features a vertical wind turbine and solar panels to generate power; an 18.5m high lookout post; a diving room and wet lab; a modular laboratory, medical and fitness areas; underwater bunks and pressurised living quarters and a variety of underwater dive pits.

SeaOrbiter is also kitted out with a range of support vessels and subsea exploration devices, including a diving drone capable of exploring the oceanic abyss at depths up to 6,000m – far deeper than it is possible for humans to travel.

seaorbiter-2

First and foremost, SeaOrbiter is a research vessel with the capability to gather and analyse data. However, it will also serve as a multimedia communications platform, churning out educational programming that has been entirely shot and edited onboard. And that’s not all: the pressurised living areas also enable SeaOrbiter to function as a space simulator.

The vessel is uniquely able to house a crew of 18 – 22 people to live onboard for long periods of time in remote areas of the ocean. Typically expeditions would last for three to six months, although the crew could remain onboard for much longer if required.

The crew would be made up of six ship operators, four scientific researchers, two multimedia operators and six ‘aquanauts’ developing research programmes.  But they won’t just be adrift and unsupported – a shore-based team will remain in constant touch to collect data and ensure everything goes smoothly.

seaorbiter-3

In a sense, SeaObiter has been more than forty years in the making. The vessel’s designer and champion Jacques Rougerie has a long-standing background in marine design, and has been developing undersea structures for decades.

His 1973 project with NASA to develop an underwater research village has been instrumental in our view of undersea living, and he has produced several landmark vessels for oceanographic exploration. Rougerie seems to have been working towards SeaOrbiter for most of his career, but only now has the technology come of age.

The project was funded through French crowdfunding website Kiss Kiss Bank Bank, with 664 people handing over between €10 and €40,000+ to raise a total of €344,650. In a video uploaded to the SeaOrbiter website, Rougerie thanked his supporters. He said: “We registered more than 600 contributors, including 20 big donors and one family who highly contributed to it”.

Now SeaOrbiter has received funding the challenge of building it can start. Rougerie expects construction to take two years, so by 2016 we could be following the launch of this remarkable vessel.


Images courtesy of SeaOrbiter.