Wearable Tech World Feature Article
September 01, 2015

Batteries: One of Wearable Tech's Biggest Problems

While technology itself has advanced considerably over the course of the last 20 to 30 years, one technology that's still a bit behind the curve is battery technology. The technology that stores the power necessary to run devices when an outlet isn't available hasn't been keeping up, but that's starting to change, and a new report from Lux Research says that there's a lot more investment going on in making batteries better.

The study—titled “Powerful Medicine: Opportunities for Pairing New Bioelectronics with Innovative Energy Storage”—suggests that the lack of development pace in the battery market may be holding back the entire shift toward personalized healthcare, as well as several other fields. The problem is that batteries, as they currently are, barely satisfy current demands. Future demands will likely prove insufficiently powered by current batteries, and that's sparking a whole new field of demand.

However, the Lux Research study revealed several key points about the upcoming battery market that may have quite a bit of impact. First, it was found that lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries would make big strides in the years to come, with batteries reaching 1,200 Wh/L in 2025, roughly double the current energy density. Life span will reach around 25 years and safety standards will become ranked “excellent” over the current “mediocre to satisfactory” level.

Lux Research also expects certain companies to stand out in the field based on the results of the Lux Innovation Grid scoring: EaglePitcher, FlexEl, and WiTricity. These three are considered dominant in the field, with EaglePitcher offering a line of batteries specifically for aerospace, medical and military applications. FlexEl offers engineering for custom battery options, using technology well beyond the hardware store's batteries of cylindrical cells or thin-film batteries. WiTricity boasts a wireless charging technology that's already been shown to have quite a bit of value for everything from smartphones to electric cars.

Of particular note here is the discovery that most current Li-ion developers are actually lagging in innovation, according to the Lux Innovation Grid's results. There's not much in the way of technology or business execution, with much of the crowd ranked around the “mediocre” level. This means that a lot of companies will miss out unless there's a clear push toward improvement on every level.

It's been a problem for a long time now; just ask anyone who's ever tried to set up a solar or wind power backup system at a house. Battery technology just hasn't kept up the way other technologies have. While deep cycle batteries can certainly still keep a laptop and DSL modem powered for several hours, expecting these to power a household requires a massive bank of them, and that's well out of the pricing range for most people. It only gets worse for wearables; while a ring of nine-volts at the base of an overcoat may or may not sound stylish, changing these out would be a nightmare of inconvenience. The idea of a nine-volt for a pacemaker or other implanted device, meanwhile, is even worse.

So therefore, it's clear we need better battery technology to provide the power necessary to keep these new devices running, and particularly for medical or implantable devices. Improved battery technology helps on many fronts, and the better we are able to store power, the better off we'll be in terms of our wearable devices and even our home lives as well.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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