Mobile tech 2010: Five trends that will change our lives

The next two years will bring a slew of advances for mobile workers. Here are five that will make life on the road more productive.

1 2 3 4 5 Page 3
Page 3 of 5

Better batteries

The next two years hold a lot in store for lithium batteries, which power everything from music players and cell phones to notebooks and cameras. The first big step forward will happen later this year, with the advent of power cells that don't wear out after a couple years of use.

Every lithium battery is basically a small chemical factory that works by trading the chemical energy stored in lithium compounds for electrical energy that powers the system. When it runs out of power, you charge the battery to replenish its supply of chemical energy. This repeated charge-discharge cycle creates layers of oxyhydroxide on the all-important carbon anode where the battery's electricity is collected, choking the cells to death.

Cleaning up a battery's act with an anode of pure carbon helps prevent the creation of these power-sapping layers and prolongs battery life. According to Christina Lampe-Onnerud, CEO of battery maker Boston Power, its Sonata battery design lasts for more than 1,400 charge cycles -- three to four times what conventional batteries are capable of. This translates into four years of daily recharges.

Plus, according to the company, the Sonata can be charged to 40% of its capacity in 10 minutes and 80% in 30 minutes. "The battery can get a quick charge at the airport or waiting for an appointment," says Lampe-Onnerud. "In other words, charge the way you work."

HP plans to offer Boston Power's batteries later this year under the Enviro brand. The batteries are the same size and weight as traditional notebook batteries but will carry a three-year warranty at a time when most batteries are guaranteed for either 90 days or a year.

How long batteries can hold a charge will take a big step forward over the next two years as well. Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science at Stanford University, has been making battery anodes out of silicon nanowires instead of carbon. Thinner than a human hair, the nanowires last longer and are more efficient than carbon.

"Batteries never run long enough and go dead when you least expect it. My goal is a full-day battery," says Cui. He says he's almost there with test cells that run in the lab for nearly twice as long as conventional batteries. If all goes well, his revolutionary battery could become available in late 2010.

By 2010, mobile power may not even require a battery. As odd as that sounds, notebooks and other devices could be powered by a fuel cells that convert methanol into electricity. A totally different technology than batteries, fuel cells convert a hydrogen-containing fuel into electricity and leave behind only water and carbon dioxide.

Several notebook makers have been hard at work for years refining fuel-cell prototype notebooks, and Panasonic appears to be close to a breakthrough. The company's fuel cell has a projected life span of 10 years and is roughly the size and weight of a traditional battery pack, but it can run for 20 hours on about 5 oz. of methanol.

The best part is that there's no bulky AC adapter to lug around. Plus, when the notebook is out of power, forget about looking around for the AC outlet -- just insert a new fuel tank, and the machine is ready for another 20 hours.

1 2 3 4 5 Page 3
Page 3 of 5
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon