gameboy without battery

Battery-less ‘Game Boy’ powers itself from button presses and the Sun

Image credit: northwestern uni

A 'Game Boy' that operates without a battery and instead harvests its energy from both the Sun and the user's button presses has been created by researchers.

The research team, from Northwestern University, Illinois, say their device “pushes the boundaries of battery-free intermittent computing” and enables portable gaming without needing to stop and recharge the battery.

The new gaming platform, dubbed Engage, has the size and form factor of Nintendo's original Game Boy (although no affiliation), while being equipped with a set of solar panels around the screen and the ability to harvest small amounts of energy from the button presses of the user.

The team designed the processor to operate in the same way as an original Game Boy, allowing it to play popular retro games straight from its original cartridge.

As the device switches between power sources, it does experience short losses in power. To ensure an acceptable duration of gameplay between power failures, the researchers designed the system hardware and software from the ground up to be energy aware as well as very energy efficient.

gameboy without battery

Image credit: northwestern uni

They also developed a new technique for storing the system state in non-volatile memory, minimising overhead and allowing quick restoration when the power returns. This eliminates the need to press 'save', as seen in traditional platforms, as the player can now continue gameplay from the exact point of the device fully losing power - even if Mario had been in mid-jump.

On a relatively clear day, and for games that require at least moderate amounts of clicking, gameplay interruptions typically last less than one second for every 10 seconds of gameplay. While the researchers said this was a playable scenario for some games such as Chess, Solitaire and Tetris, it is less acceptable for action-oriented games.

Although there is still a long way to go before hand-held game consoles with modern capabilities become fully battery-free, the researchers hope their devices could raise awareness of the environmental impact of the vast number of small devices that make up the Internet of Things.

Batteries are costly, environmentally hazardous and they must eventually be replaced, otherwise the entire device ends up in landfill.

“It’s the first battery-free interactive device that harvests energy from user actions,” said Northwestern’s Josiah Hester, who co-led the research. “When you press a button, the device converts that energy into something that powers your gaming.”

“Our work is the antithesis of the Internet of Things, which has many devices with batteries in them. Those batteries eventually end up in the garbage. If they aren’t fully discharged, they can become hazardous. They are hard to recycle. We want to build devices that are more sustainable and can last for decades.”

“Sustainable gaming will become a reality and we made a major step in that direction by getting rid of the battery completely,” said TU Delft’s Przemyslaw Pawelczak, who co-led the research with Hester.

“With our platform, we want to make a statement that it is possible to make a sustainable gaming system that brings fun and joy to the user.”

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