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Chris Murphy
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Better Batteries Not Included

I came away from Wired's take on the future of the battery with a conclusion depressingly similar to our own coverage: Even battery innovators don't expect breakthroughs anytime soon.

I came away from Wired's take on the future of the battery with a conclusion depressingly similar to our own coverage: Even battery innovators don't expect breakthroughs anytime soon.We took on the question of the battery's future in October, when Darrell Dunn reached this conclusion:

"...the computer, communications, and consumer electronics industries need to move away from batteries as we've known them and find new ways to power all the mobile devices people carry around. Some of the ideas seem, well, unusual. How about a hydrogen fuel cell in your cell phone? Or a mini gas-turbine engine in your BlackBerry? These are still far-off notions, but it's going to take this kind of daring experimentation to break out of the lithium-ion box that keeps us reaching for a power cord every few hours."

Wired's article in its November issue takes us down a few different technology roads, including the use of "nanograss" that would let power be applied as needed to different components of a device, with the microprocessor controlling when to power up and down. Yet it, too, concludes that any such options are years off, with nanograss, for example, requiring not just new batteries but retooling of every device to take advantage of it. But it predicts that eventually device makers will have no choice: "As Bell Labs' [Art Ramirez, chief of device physics] puts it, current battery problems point to the end of the "silicon road map."

In both the InformationWeek and Wired pieces, there are a lot of innovators and inventors discussing "could-be" ideas. But in an industry known for overpromising in the short term, and for hyping radical breakthroughs that end up taking far longer to materialize, no one paints a very promising picture that the next great battery breakthrough is on the horizon.

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