Everyone hates dead batteries, and even rechargeable batteries are a pain when the charger’s not around, but what if a battery had a built-in charger?
It does now. It’s called USBCELL, and its designers are trying to change the way the world uses batteries, according to Christopher Wright, the design director for Moixa Energy Ltd., the UK-based company that makes the batteries.
The concept was simple: Make a battery that can recharge off a USB dongle, but design engineers had their hands full with trying to juggle two different technologies — basic battery chemistry and the electronics of a USB interface — at the same time, a requirement to make the product work, Wright said.
“In order to achieve that, it has required the design team to understand batteries holistically,” he said. “One had to understand (both) the way batteries are assembled, as well as the electronic circuits.”
On top of that, Wright said, there was significant pressure to innovate, what with the battery market in general being saturated with cheap disposable batteries already.
“In the end, we’re competing with a very low-cost product,” he said.
The rechargeable battery and its benefits, both to the environment and the consumer’s wallet, have been obvious for years, but Wright said the idea here was to come up with a way to prevent people from carrying a brick-sized charger around to plug into the wall, or being forced to retreat to the charger once the batteries run out.
That, and the product had to be something people could easily use.
“We spent a lot of time trying to make it, how shall I say it, as consumer-proof as possible,” Wright said.
The USBCELL has an intuitive interface — just pop off the end and the flat, USB dongle is easily recognizable to anyone who uses a computer or other modern consumer electronics device.
“You take of the cap and it’s kind of iconic, you know, ‘There’s a USB!’” Wright said.
Benny Har-Even, deputy editor of TrustedReviews.com, an online consumer electronics review publication, said the recharging mechanism makes the batteries unique.
“So many of us have USB ports around the house, so when (the batteries) run low we can recharge them easily,” he said.
Luke Morgan, of Rochester, N.Y., uses the batteries for consumer electronics such as CD players, wireless controllers and other equipment he uses.
“That way, I don’t have to carry any extra equipment to recharge, and also don’t have to worry about my batteries running out on me during my extended trips,” he said.
He carries the batteries with his laptop computer, a ready source for the USB ports that charge the batteries overnight, he said.
“I have bought four sets so far,” he said.
The company first designed the AA model because it is so common, and because it was the smallest size they could easily fit the USB dongle into, Wright said. They are about to release an AAA version, which has a dongle that folds in half when stored inside the battery.
Right now, the batteries are available in England at retail outlets, and can be bought online from anywhere else in the world. Within the next few months, Wright said the company plans to sign a deal bringing the USBCELL to retail outlets in the states.