SyntaxHighlighter

2012-04-10

Is the Simple Electron Our Greatest Hindrance?

You already know who this is, right?
Whether it be an exoskeleton, cybernetic enhancements, giant mecha, or just your cell phone the greatest obstacle for sustained usefulness is being able to effectively power them.

In the realms of fiction we get around this by using fusion reactors to power Battle Mechs, or anti-matter to achieve faster than light travel.  A quick look at almost any sci-fi universe will reveal the author's solution for such power hungry obstacles.

Yet in a world where we feel blessed if our cell phone actually can get through one day of normal use without needing a mid-day recharge, where are we exactly in overcoming these limitations?



We have made limited improvements to the battery, whose technology may go back to Mesopotamia.  And with the limited, albeit slow, adoption of electric cars scientists have been working to solve this dilemma also.

This is a hurdle that has widespread effects, and limitations, for the types of technology that we could be using.  Current research into helping the blind see by implanting electrodes into the brain require around 600 currently, compared to just a handful for an brain implant to help the deaf hear.  And all those electrodes need electricity to work.

As wonderful as it would be to see, most people would probably be resistant to wearing a 50 pound (19 kilo) battery pack around all day to do this.  Powered exoskeletons at least have the benefit of off-setting the weight of the battery packs they carry.  But all of this this leads to a never-ending cycle that parallels the same headaches that space exploration has--more power equals more weight, which requires more power.

Many of our fictional solutions do have a basis on theoretical possibilities.  Put a bit of matter and anti-matter together, and you end up with a rather large explosion.  Unfortunately our ability to manufacture anti-matter is limited and some estimate to even get 250 grams would require about 2.5 million years using current technology.  Then there is the little hitch of being able to contain said explosion in a manner that we could harness it for energy, which would be just a touch more complicated than an internal combustion engine.

Those of you who are fans of the Stargate TV series will be familiar with the Ancient's use of ZPMs (Zero Point Modules).  This is based off the existance in Quantum Mechanics of Zero Point Energy which has its own set if problems in trying to effectively harness it for everyday use (and one of the reasons we are seeking data on the Higgs Bosom at CERN).

There exists the possibility that Nikola Tesla's World Wireless System could have provided not only wireless communication worldwide (in 1901), but its secondary function was to provide free power worldwide transmitted both through the air and the earth itself.  Due to financial problems, politics, and perhaps the inability of people at the time to comprehend the implications of this device it never came to fruition.

Until we can overcome this limitation of being able to power our devices and vehicles without the need of a tether to a huge power plant, it seems that making the future a reality will be greatly limited.