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Ask The #IoE Futurist: “Will the future of battery technology prohibit the advancement of computers or technology in general?”

- April 1, 2014 3:48 pm

In my role as Cisco’s Chief Futurist, I get many questions about what the future holds and how new technology and emerging solutions will change our lives. Given the positive feedback and the volume of questions being submitted from the community around the first series, I’ve decided to do another series to answer questions from the education and tech community around the Internet of Everything (IoE). Whether the questions are global in scope, such as how the Internet of Everything will shape our world, or small in nature, like today’s Ask the #IoE Futurist question about batteries, I enjoy the challenge of answering them all.

It’s true what most school teachers say, “There is no such thing as a bad question.”

In fact, when it comes to questioning what the future of technology looks like, the ideas from Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book, The Tipping Point, come to life.

Gladwell states that a tipping point is when a small idea, technology or trend crosses a threshold and “spreads like wildfire.” Today, we are witnessing a tipping point in technology innovation that is representative of small innovations that have a compounding effect on society. Microscopic sensors, tiny wearable mobile devices, miniscule packets of energy, and even an AA battery have the potential to impact future innovation and what it means to be connected.

In this post, I’ll answer a question from Chad, a student of Cisco Champion Karen Woodard, about how specifically new developments in battery technology could impact new solutions.  Here is Chad’s question:

Question: “Will the future of battery technology prohibit the advancement of computers or technology in general?”

Answer:  That’s a great question and one that’s been a hot topic in the news recently. Did you see the Washington Post article about how the University of Texas at Arlington filed a patent application for a minuscule windmill? The idea is to harness wind power to help charge your smartphone’s battery.

This is just the beginning of the research and development in this field. Other areas of testing and exploration include:

  1. New types of battery chemistry, such as those using carbon nanotubes or graphene.
  2. Lithium sulfur batteries with about four times the energy density of comparable lithium ion battery technologies
  3. New types of super-capacitors that can charge in minutes, although they don’t quite have the density of a normal battery
  4. Devices that harvest energy from the environment though kinetic energy or even WiFi signals.
  5. And of course, there is also a lot of research exploring renewable energies such as solar, that can keep batteries going longer. For example, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are working on a flexible plastic that can double the output at half the cost of solar cells.

These examples and many others highlight the industry’s great effort to improve battery technology. In answer to your question, if battery technology does not change and evolve, then yes, future technologies will be challenged. No one wants to change or charge batteries in dozens of things every day or in some cases multiple times a day.

For example, we are just beginning to see how improvements in battery life are transforming electric car models, helping drivers save money and making a big impact on the environment. GM recently announced plans to use a lithium-ion battery composition containing nickel, cobalt and manganese that promises to be cheaper and more powerful than other car batteries currently on the market.

With all of the new research and plans for improvement I’m very optimistic that will battery life will have a significant impact on helping future technologies become a reality. Battery innovation will also help drive the Internet of Everything forward. As more people, things, processes and data come online, the devices powering connections will require constant power and connectivity. In light of this need, Gladwell’s Tipping Point theory rings especially true. The smallest innovations, even the batteries powering our connected devices, will have a big impact on our society.

If you missed the first Ask the #IoE Futurist blog series, check them out:

  1. Ask The Internet of Everything Futurist: “When Will We Get Our Flying Cars?”
  2. Ask The Futurist: Will the Internet of Everything Make Universal Digital Medical Records a Reality?
  3. Ask the Futurist: “How Will the Internet of Everything Help Us Manage Our Own Health?”
  4. Ask The Futurist: “How Will the Internet of Everything Impact Teachers’ Roles in the Connected Classroom?”
  5. Ask The Futurist: “How Will Mesh Networking Affect Robotics?”

Do you have a question about the Internet of Everything for @DaveTheFuturist? Join the conversation #IoE and #AskTheFuturist.

Author: Dave Evans

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