New York City—You want power, you find a socket. This truism hasn't changed in decades, despite the Internet revolution and advent of electrical appliances that run our lives. But a crack appeared in its armor at PC Expo—a tiny fuel cell designed to recharge cell phone and PDA batteries. Fuel cells have long been positioned as alternatives to fossil fuels, and even as renewable energy sources for automobiles, but nobody's designed a commercially viable system yet.
Now the Instant Power™ Charger from Electric Fuel Corp. (New York, NY, with R&D in Beit Shemesh, Israel) can crank out 5.6V for your ailing battery, miles from the nearest electrical outlet. Good for about three full charges, the 2- × 2-inch cartridge costs less than $20 (with refills for $10) and is activated when the zinc inside begins to oxidate. Return the cartridge inside its foil pouch, and it will hibernate until the next time you let it "breathe."
Another company making this type of product is Polyfuel (Menlo Park, CA), reputedly making a refillable methanol cartridge that produces volts when it oxidizes. Their product is not due on the market until 2003.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.