What Lies Beyond Batteries for Power?

In this week's Cybershake, we take a look at what could be providing power to tomorrow's high-tech portables. Plus, we note a new game that will have Star Wars fans itching for a fight.

Beyond the Battery

Cell phones, digital music players, laptops, handheld computers, camcorders, portable DVD players and digital cameras are just some of the portable wonders many people can't seem to do without now. But the one thing all those — and future — mobile devices can't live without? Power.

And unfortunately, current battery technology seems unable to keep up with the growing demands of new electronic gear.

"Battery life just isn't really going up at the same rate that our rate of innovation on the electronic side is going up," says Eric Hagerman, senior editor at Popular Science magazine.

The power factor has really put a cramp on how electronic consumer goods are designed by product makers now.

"The engineers have to figure out [power loads] first," says Hagerman. "[They] get a number and then they can work backwards from that and figure out how [many features] they can pack into a device."

And the power factor sometimes means that certain cool gizmos just don't get invented.

"We have the technology to make a handheld satellite radio device," says Hagerman. "But it would only get one hour of battery life."

But many companies and university researchers are looking into new ways to provide juice for power hungry portables. The most popular ideas involve so-called micro fuel cells.

Much like larger systems developed for space craft and "green cars," fuel cells create energy by chemically combining hydrogen and oxygen. The only byproducts are carbon dioxide and water.

While such tiny power sources would be environmentally friendly, there are still a few problems the power industry needs to work out.

"You have to refill a fuel cell some how and they haven't quite figured out what's the best way to do that," says Hagerman.

The U.S. military and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are looking into other innovative alternatives so soldiers won't have to carry so many batteries for all their high-tech combat gear. One MIT research project involves investigating how tiny vibrations might be converted into useable electricity.

Whether or not such research will actually yield a portable power source better than batteries, Hagerman says one thing is certain: "We've essentially squeezed as much blood out of the battery stone as we can."

— Larry Jacobs, ABC News

Fight Like a Rebel — or a Stormtrooper

For die-hard fans of science-fiction classic Star Wars, this week has been a good week. Not only has creator and director George Lucas released the trilogy of films on DVD, there's a new video game out as well.

Star Wars Battlefront produced by LucasArts, the video game division of Lucas Entertainment Company, puts players right in the action.

Players can choose to be any one of 20 different types of soldiers fighting for either the heroic Rebel forces or the evil galactic Empire. And "it's the first game to take you to all the great battles of the Star Wars universe," says Peter Hirschmann with LucasArts.

For example, fans can recreate the opening battle of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back where rebel forces on the ice planet Hoth faced the Imperia's gigantic "walkers" — attack vehicles that lumbered on four mechanical legs.

"[Players] can be those Rebel troops down in the trenches, armed with their blast rifles, looking up at these mammoth hulking walkers," says Hirschmann. "And on the flip side, players can also take the role of the Imperials, so they're driving the walkers [or] they're the troops running alongside."

Star Wars Battlefront is available for the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation2 home video game systems as well as for PCs. Cost: $50.

— Cheri Preston, ABC News

Cybershake is produced for ABCNEWS Radio by Andrea J. Smith.

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