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Intel taps wine barrel to power microprocessors

Intel taps wine barrel to power microprocessors

Genevieve Bell demonstrates an Intel microprocessor so low-power, it can do something useful even if its only power source is a glass of red wine.

Attendees at the Intel Developer Forum this week were treated to an unusually booze-soddled demonstration from the company, which used wine as a power source for its embedded low-power processing system.

Designed to show off the capabilities of Intel's ultra low-power microprocessors, in particular its recently-announced Quark family, the demonstration by Intel fellow Genevieve Bell saw a tiny embedded computing system run a program and output graphics to an ePaper electrophoretic display.

By itself, that hardly sounds like an impressive demonstration; Intel, however, upped the ante by showing that the system ran on so little power, it could be run from a glass of red wine with no traditional power source in sight.

It's a trick anybody with school-age children will likely recognise: the acidic wine was used as a simple chemical battery, with two metal strips acting as cathode and anode. The same technology is used in science classes and gadget shops to power small quartz clocks from oranges, lemons or even potatoes - although, Valve's Portal 2 notwithstanding, the latter is unlikely to offer the juice required to run an entire computing system.

So, a simple application of science - but one that demonstrates Intel's commitment to the embedded market, which is currently dominated by microcontroller systems produced by rivals including Texas Instruments and Atmel at the low end and microprocessors based on ARM's intellectual property at the high end.

Speaking at the event, the vice-president of Intel's New Devices arm Mike Bell claimed his company was beginning to think in microwatts rather than milliwatts, producing ultra low-power processors and chipsets that it hopes will give it a foothold in the burgeoning embedded market. In particular, Bell highlighted experimental devices including smartwatches, computerised glasses and even bracelets - although a demonstration bracelet used at the event to turn the audience into a low-resolution display surface turned out to be an off-the-shelf product from Pixmob, powered by an Atmel microcontroller.

With increasing interest in wearable computing - Samsung and Sony are going head-to-head with smaller rivals in the smartwatch market while Apple is predicted to be launching a device of its own in the near future - and the market for Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices growing, Intel's push could be an interesting shake-up for a market that it has traditionally ignored.

5 Comments

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Corky42 13th September 2013, 13:27 Quote
So does this mean we will be able to power embedded system using the power generated by the human body ? Maybe as controllers for prosthetic limbs, or long term monitoring of illnesses. Will your body be the battery of the future ?
jrs77 13th September 2013, 14:30 Quote
An apple working as a battery for a small radio. Who hasn't done this when he was young :)

Anyways. Making a SoC that draws as litle power as a small radio is awesome for sure.
azazel1024 13th September 2013, 15:21 Quote
There is some significant work toward driving low power, power supplies with human metabolism. Glucose goes in, power is generated, waste is put right back in to the blood stream to be cleaned out. Same byproducts that your own cells would produce.

I think think the power levels are anything to right home about, microwatts at best...but Intel is thinking along the lines of microwatts. Might allow things like implantable hearing aid or cochlear implants that never need batteries.

I doubt it is the sort of thing that would ever get beyond the level of miliwatts of power, but could be enough to run basic microcontrollers and sensors. Prosthetic limbs probably will never be able to be powered directly from your own body, but some of the electronics in them might be able to be, even if the motors need their own power supply. I can think of a lot of uses there where you can have a sense of touch and heat/cold all the time, even sleeping as the sensors and controllers in the prosthetic arm/leg are being powered off your body, but you have to charge the limb every day (swap batteries?) for the motors. Or maybe even when sleeping the limb could slowly and partially recharge its batteries from your body (human body is capable of pumping out several hundred watts through our normal metabolism, if you could draw even as much power as a USB2.0 port of 2.5w, you probably could do some significant recharging overnight and extend batteries during the day).
desertstalker 14th September 2013, 10:24 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Corky42
So does this mean we will be able to power embedded system using the power generated by the human body ? Maybe as controllers for prosthetic limbs, or long term monitoring of illnesses. Will your body be the battery of the future ?

Not using that technique, unless you want to poison yourself. Besides the anode (i think, can never remember which one) is consumed and would need replacing (like a normal non-rechargeable cell). The wine is just being used as an electrolyte (blood would work fine, but we kinda need that as it is without a whole lot of extra meal ions floating around in it).
Corky42 14th September 2013, 11:20 Quote
Not yet you cant, but biofuel cells are being used in research, and Sony developed a Bio Battery in 2007 that put out 50 mW. So its only a matter of time for the matrix to come true
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