Starting from “unplugged” headphones, how far are we from saying goodbye to “battery life anxiety” in the future?

Adidas' RPT-02 SOL headphones are a little different from ordinary headphones. In addition to having a removable cleaning cover for use in sports scenes, it does not come with a charging cable.

Because its main charging method is solar energy.

Although solar energy technology has been around for a long time, it is still far away from our lives due to efficiency and cost constraints.

Until now, a new form of solar energy technology is beginning to gradually enter our digital life, making a "recharge-free" future seem closer.

Solar energy that doesn’t have to be “sun”

If an alien comes to Earth and sees so much sunlight, but hears us talking about energy problems, he will be shocked. Photovoltaic effect! ——Ian McEwan's novel "Chasing the Sun"

Sorry aliens, until now, when we see electronic devices selling solar charging, it’s hard not to suspect that it’s a gimmick.

The existing mainstream solar energy technology relies too much on outdoor sunlight, and consumers may not like to take our electronic products outdoors for long periods of exposure without taking any sun protection measures.

This is also the difference between the Adidas headphones mentioned at the beginning of the article. Its solar charging technology can make better use of indoor light – both sunlight and artificial light can charge it.

It uses a "dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC)". The advantage of this kind of solar cell is that it is lightweight, bendable, easy to manufacture and low cost.

Compared with traditional silicon solar cells, dye-sensitized solar cells work more like plant photosynthesis, taking advantage of light that hits their surface from almost any angle.

You can mix and match dyes to match room light sources. This system is easy to adjust.

Marina Freitag, a professor at Newcastle University in the UK, introduced .

Her new paper in 2023 points out that the new dye-sensitized solar cell she developed can reach a power conversion efficiency of 38% under the intensity of a fluorescent lamp of 1,000 lux, setting a new record.

For reference, the illumination we have indoors on a sunny day is about 100-1000 lux, it is also 50-500 lux outdoors on a cloudy day, and it is only 5-50 lux indoors on a cloudy day.

As early as 2020 , her new dye-sensitized solar cell could already achieve a conversion rate of 34% under an ambient light intensity of 1,000 lux, and 31.4% under a fluorescent lamp of 200 lux.

Although Exeger, the Swedish solar cell manufacturer behind Adidas headphones, has not used Professor Freitag's record-breaking new technology, it at least has a more mature commercialization method.

Exeger's Powerfoyle batteries are flexible, lightweight and can be printed in different shapes, sizes and textures.

On Adidas headphones, we can see that the battery has been made into a more sporty and dynamic texture, breaking the stereotype of the traditional "solar section" and better matching the product design aesthetics.

Users can see the charging and discharging status of the headphones in real time on the companion app.

Moreover, although it does not come with a charging cable, the headphones still have a backup battery.

According to reports, the battery life is up to 80 hours, ensuring that users are not afraid of running out of power even in an environment with no light at all. It is a bit like "equating your own autonomous driving with a human driver."

According to the experience of the blogger of the YouTube channel "ShortCircuit", although the passive charging of this headset seems very slow, it cannot be completely "discharged" due to the continuous passive charging during overall use:

The battery was at 51% when I unboxed it. After using it indoors for a few hours, it dropped to 49%.

But as soon as the sunlight comes in and I'm not using them, they start to charge passively. Although I continued to experiment with it, by the weekend, its battery level was about 58% or 60%.

If the product launched by Adidas in 2022 is more like a "one-off" taste, then the Stockholm company Urbanista has gone deeper in its cooperation with Exeger.

Urbanista collaborated with Exeger for the first time in 2021 to launch solar charging headphones Los Angeles. The overall technology is similar to Adidas's, but the design is more low-key.

According to Wired , Exeger initially collaborated with JBL to make headphones. However, due to the epidemic, long-distance cooperation was difficult, and the final product failed. Instead, Exeger started cooperation with Exeger in the same city and made many products.

▲ JBL products previously announced

Now, Urbanista has not only launched a second product for Los Angeles headphones, but also expanded its solar charging products to true wireless Bluetooth headphones Phoenix and portable Bluetooth speaker Malibu.

▲ Solar-powered portable Bluetooth speaker Malibu

Exeger is not the only DSSC company bringing new news at CES. California startup Ambient Photonics announced that it will cooperate with Google to create new products equipped with solar charging.

Also making dye-sensitized solar cells, the advantage of Ambient Photonics' new technology this time is that it can use both sides of the battery to capture indoor light at the same time – the front side can operate normally at normal efficiency, while the efficiency of the back side is half that of the front side.

Google will launch its first product equipped with this technology this year. Although Google has not announced what product it is, people can't help but guess that it should be a smart home product.

Don’t worry about the future of charging, start from “home”?

"Charging" is a "daily" thing that has been written into the minds of modern people.

I have even developed a fixed "charging schedule" myself:

When I get home from get off work, I change my shoes, wash my hands, and take off my watch to charge it.

At eleven o'clock, put on a fully charged watch to sleep, and replace the device on the charging station with a mobile phone.

Get up the next day, recharge the watch while washing, and try to keep the device fully charged before going out.

Although this "program" can greatly reduce the interference of charging on my life, it still requires active planning and execution on my part.

Therefore, when I sometimes want to express "I need a good rest and recover my body" but instead say "I want to recharge my batteries", I feel silently sad for a second – it turns out that rest is also something that requires "efforts and deliberate arrangements". Doing things is like arranging to charge your device.

I know I'm not the only one worried about this.

In order to achieve "painless charging", researchers in various fields have racked their brains.

In order to solve the battery life problem of electric vehicles, the Swedish Transport Agency announced last year that it would build the world's first road that can charge electric vehicles while driving.

Ideally, this road will use an induction system to install electromagnetic coils on the road that can charge to the bottom of the battery, turning the road into a huge "wireless power bank". It is planned to be completed in 2025.

Maybe you still remember that in January 2021, Xiaomi released air charging technology – a wireless charging system composed of 144 antennas, which directionally transmits energy to mobile phones through millimeter waves. The mobile phone receives it with a micro beacon antenna, which can Achieve 5W long-distance charging within a radius of several meters.

Several years have passed, and we can only continue to watch promotional videos for the time being.

In contrast, the charging box of true wireless Bluetooth headsets uses interactive design to reduce some "active charging" troubles.

Perhaps, just like the headphone charging box, a "future where you don't have to worry about charging" requires us to optimize the product from all aspects, rather than just hoping for a one-step breakthrough in charging technology.

For example, the product director of Urbanista mentioned earlier believes that if we want to make the most of new solar technology, product design should also improve efficiency as much as possible.

In the design of Phoenix wireless earphones, the team paid more attention than ordinary true wireless earphones to reducing the energy loss between the solar panel on the charging box and the earphone transmission. At the same time, it also replaced the second-generation Phoenix earphones with more energy-saving ones. Bluetooth chip.

Another partner of Exeger, the Norwegian company ONiO, focuses on ultra-low-power microcontrollers that can obtain energy from the 800/900/1800 and 1900/2400MHz frequency bands, eliminating the need for batteries or other energy storage support.

Just as ONiO and Exeger are collaborating to create IoT home products, this category is expected to be the first electronic product to get rid of charging worries.

This type of equipment itself has relatively low energy consumption and needs to run for a long time. Combined with the advantages of DSSC in converting indoor light sources, it is indeed a good choice.

Maybe a smart doorbell that doesn't require you to worry about charging doesn't sound so attractive, but if you think about the wireless keyboard that doesn't have to be "surprised with no power" or the Magic Mouse that has to be turned over to charge, doesn't it feel better?

WSJ technology reporter Christopher Mims pointed out that the greatest potential of these technologies is that it may make the experience of products that we did not consider smart or even use (because it was too troublesome to replace batteries or connect wires) completely different.

For example, Mims said that in the past, if you wanted to install a new switch at home, you might have to have an electrician come to your home because you would have to break through the wall and run wires. But if the switch supports DSSC, it can be directly connected to the smart light wirelessly and can be used by sticking it on the wall.

Perhaps air-charging the "power monster" of a smartphone is still far away, but we should not underestimate the power of the "stick and use" switch.

Combined with the possibilities of collocation and design interaction in different industries and scenarios, a small switch can change much more than we imagine.

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