The hubbub over noise

The hubbub over noise

On the one hand, Al Gore persists with his slick mega-productions of print, video, Web and multimedia to set the world on a path that leads away from environmental apocalypse. His latest gospel is an interactive e-book for iPad and iPhone devices, titled Our Choice, that has won rave reviews for its innovative use of the medium.

On the other hand, it seems the universities and laboratories of the world are full of researchers seeking solutions to a problem that is somewhat related in scope, but perhaps a tad smaller in scale. And that problem is this: how to make mobile phones easier to charge. This might seem like a simple, even facile, problem. After all most mobile phones, especially the less complicated ones, can last for days on a single recharge. There are mass market devices that already use solar energy to replenish batteries.

Yet the regularity with which a “brave new way" of recharging phones is announced is remarkable. The latest comes from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea. Researchers there have made prototypes of devices that use sound to generate electricity. While the current prototypes only generate very little power, the researchers hope one day to make mobile phones that can charge themselves on the noise, voice and music that is played through them. If this dream comes true, then mobile phone users will be saved from the agony of having to scramble for power points in cafes and airports.

This is not the first “energy scavenging" idea that has been proposed to free people from the hegemony of the socket. In 2008, researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology said they were on the verge of making clothes out of fabric that could generate power when wearers moved. In March this year, the same team said they had made powerful prototypes that were almost ready for use outside the laboratory. Also in March, a group from Illinois University said that using carbon nanotubes instead of metal contacts in phones could prolong battery life considerably.

Science has a generous way of allowing innovation in one field to influence progress in another. Even then, this focus on figuring out how to power small devices seems a little misplaced.

But India should watch this Korean noise-power generator closely. One day, a large such device coupled to the Lok Sabha during a budget session could easily power all of Chandigarh.

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