Dick Tracy, the popular comic strip detective of yesterday, first used his famed two-way radio wristwatch way back in 1946. Like the spaceships Buck Rogers piloted during the same era, the watch was a fantasy invention. Chester Gould, the cartoonist who created Dick Tracy, dreamed it up to give his square-jawed detective an advantage over the crooks and killers he pursued.
It took fifty years, but the mobile communication wristwatch is now a reality. As new mobile communication-device technology continues to expand at a lightning pace, one sector of the spectrum continues to have problems keeping up with the advances: batteries. Battery technology has advanced over the years, but not to the extent the new devices require. This is especially true in the mobile communication field. Mobile learning devices like smartwatches that are worn and not simply carried have been limited in their practical use by the size and charge-capacity of the batteries that power them.
Wearable devices that bend and conform to body parts like the wrist are all the rage now. We can connect directly to the internet and send text message from a device not much larger than a standard men’s wristwatch. Unfortunately, the technology needed to produce batteries small enough to be placed in or on these wearable items and have enough power to hold a decent charge has not kept pace.
Up till now, even though battery manufacturers have spent millions of dollars in research and development, most smartphones can only operate for a day before they need recharging. That changed, however, when the South Korean smartphone giant Samsung recently displayed its prototype line of thin, flexible batteries.
Even though Samsung’s Galaxy brand Android phones propelled the company to No. 1 as the world’s premier smartphone vendor, they needed to increase their other components businesses to remain profitable. With customers like Apple, one of its largest, Samsung was able to halt a seven-quarter earnings slide the third quarter of this year.
The next quarter looks even brighter since the introduction at the recent annual InterBattery 2015 expo in Seoul, South Korea of two prototype thin and flexible batteries, the “Stripe” and the “Band.”
These new Samsung batteries are thin and flexible enough to fit small spaces and housings that formerly could not hold a battery. The goal is to make the battery flexible enough to bend back upon itself in a complete loop, a radius of approximately 15mm. This configuration would mean the Stripe could fit perfectly inside the band that holds the mobile device to the wrist.
According to test results, Samsung reports that the Stripe battery has the potential to increase the battery life of mobile devices by a much as 50% over existing batteries. Just as important, flexibility tests on the Stripe battery shows that the band was able to undergo 50,000 bends without cracking or failing.
Samsung isn’t content to market the future Stripe battery technology as simply a bendable battery for wrist devices. They envision a wide range of uses for thin, flexible batteries in different forms that could be used in necklaces, t-shirt accessories, hairbands and many other wearable applications.
Samsung has yet to announce a production schedule or a date when their new flexible batteries will be available to the consumer. When questioned at the Seoul battery exposition, a Samsung SDI engineer predicted, unofficially, that the new generation of flexible batteries could be on the market by early 2017. Until then, consumers have to be content with using the current batteries available while they wait for the Stripe.
Written by: Brigg Patten
Brigg Patten writes in the business and tech spaces. He’s a fan of podcasts, bokeh and smooth jazz. His time is mostly spent learning the piano and watching his Golden Retriever Julian chase a stick.