A portable video game that allows you to play indefinitely would be a parent's worst nightmare.
Thankfully, this battery-free Game Boy isn't just a toy. It is a feasibility demonstration developed by researchers from Northwestern University and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
What is the "infinite" Game Boy powered by without batteries?
Instead of expensive and environmentally hazardous batteries eventually ending up in landfills, this device harvests energy from the sun and from the user. Enough energy to allow you to play it practically forever without having to stop and recharge the battery.
"It is the first battery-free interactive device that harvests energy from user actions," he said Josiah Hester from Northwestern, who co-led the research. "When you press a button, the device converts that energy into something that powers your game."
"Sustainable gaming will become a reality and we have taken an important step in that direction by completely eliminating the battery." This is what he says Przemyslaw Pawelczak of TU Delft, who co-led the research. "With our platform, we want to say that it is possible to create a sustainable video game system that brings fun and joy to the user."
The teams will present the "infinite" Game Boy prototype and related research on September 15 at UbiComp 2020, a major conference in the field of interactive systems.
Hester is an assistant professor of electrical, computer and computer engineering at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering. Pawelczak is an assistant professor at the Embedded Software Lab at TU Delft. Their team includes Jasper de Winkel and Vito Kortbeek, both Ph.D. candidates for TU Delft.
How is the Game Boy made without battery?
The game platform developed by the researchers is the size and form factor of the original Game Boy, while being equipped with a series of solar panels around the screen.
Button pressing by the user is a second source of energy.
When the device switches from one power source to another, it experiences brief power losses. To ensure acceptable game duration between power outages, the researchers designed the system's hardware and software from the ground up to make them very energy efficient.
The team also developed a new technique for storing system state. It is non-volatile memory, which minimizes overhead and allows for quick recovery when power returns. In practice, the player can continue the game from the exact point where he left off due to the loss of power.
In summary: the parents' nightmare
On a not-too-cloudy day and for non-easy games, game breaks typically last less than a second for every 10 seconds of play.
Researchers believe this allows for perfect playability for some games, including chess, solitaire, and tetris, but certainly not yet for all.
There is still a lot to do before portable video games of the future become completely battery-free. The researchers hope these prototypes will raise awareness of the environmental impact of the devices that make up the Internet of Things.
Batteries are expensive, dangerous to the environment and eventually need to be replaced.
"Our work is the antithesis of the Internet of Things, which has many devices with batteries in them," said Hester. "Those batteries eventually end up in the trash. If they're not fully discharged, they can become dangerous." And they are difficult to recycle, I add.