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Phones to be powered by speech?

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Mobile phones could one day be powered by your banter, if research being carried out by two US universities proves fruitful.

Tahir Cagin, a professor from the A&M University in Texas, together with a team from the University of Houston, discovered that the energy-harvesting capabilities of piezoelectric materials improve by around 100 per cent when working at a length scale of between 20 and 23 nanometres.

Cagin’s research of piezoelectricity at the nanoscale level is new, but piezoelectric materials were discovered well over 100 years ago. They're materials which produce electricity when they're compressed.

"Disturbances in the form of sound waves, such as pressure waves in gases, liquids and solids may be harvested for powering nano- and micro-devices of the future," Cagin told website Science Daily.

For example, a mobile phone equipped with a piezoelectric power source could mean that the handset would be charged by the sound waves created during a good long natter. These “disturbances” could also be used to power all sorts of other portable gadgets, including MP3 players, laptops and compact cameras.

Not that this is a new notion. Many watches are powered not by battery but by physical movement, using it to keep their springs wound. We'd be interested to hear about research carrying out this approach at the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) level.

It’s worth noting that the Automated Music Personality robot unveiled earlier this year relied on piezoelectricity, whilst a London nightclub already has a piezoelectric dancefloor powered by intoxicated revellers.

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