Now everyone can build battery-free electronic devices
4 min read
New technology enables hobbyists to build, program smart, sustainable devices
Last year, computer engineers from Northwestern University and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) introduced the world's first battery-free Game Boy, which harvests both solar energy and the user's kinetic energy from button mashing to power an unlimited lifetime of game play.

The same team now introduces a new platform that enables makers, hobbyists and novice programmers to build their own battery-free electronic devices that run with intermittent, harvested energy.

Called BFree, the system includes energy-harvesting hardware (the BFree Shield) and a power-failure-resistant version of Python, one of the most accessible and most used programming languages. All the user needs is a basic understanding of Python in order to quickly and easily turn any do-it-yourself (DIY) smart device into a battery-free version. With this technology, novice programmers can now turn their DIY battery-powered motion sensor, for example, into a solar-powered sensor with an infinite lifetime.

The research will be presented virtually at 11 a.m. EDT (U.S.) on Wednesday, Sept. 22, at UbiComp 2021, the premier conference for ubiquitous computing. Users can find instructions for how to build and use the new technology here.

'Asking the wrong question'

Josiah Hester "Right now, it's virtually impossible for hobbyists to develop devices with battery-free hardware, so we wanted to democratize our battery-free platform," said Northwestern's Josiah Hester, who co-led the work. "Makers all over the internet are asking how to extend their devices' battery life. They are asking the wrong question. We want them to forget about the battery and instead think about more sustainable ways to generate energy."

"The maker community is typically more interested in rapidly deploying their devices, and that quickness doesn't always go well with sustainability," said TU Delft's Przemyslaw Pawelczak, who…
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