Batteries Not Included? No Problem, Disney's New Electronic Device Doesn't Need Them
October 7, 2013

Batteries Not Included? No Problem, Disney’s New Electronic Device Doesn’t Need Them

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Disney researchers in Pittsburgh have discovered a way to store energy in paper-like materials that can later be harvested via rubbing, sliding or tapping. The resulting energy can then be used to turn on LED lights, activate an e-ink display, or turn on other low-power devices.

In a video, Disney researchers show off this technology being used in an interactive book wherein the reader can tap a paper switch or rub a conductive area with Teflon to turn on lights, play animations, or engage simple mechanical actions. The energy harvested from these paper devices doesn’t rely on a battery and the applications themselves are easy to construct with some basic materials. Disney also received research help from Carnegie Mellon University in this project.

According to the Disney research team, this new approach uses the same sort of harvesting technology found in microphones and other Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, or MEMS devices. The key to harvesting the power from these simple paper devices is the reaction between metalized polyester and Teflon, or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). When the Teflon is rubbed against these sheets of polyester, it accumulates a small electronic charge. Electrodes are attached to these reactive surfaces, thereby generating a small electrical current without the need of batteries or other power source. In the demonstration video, researchers were shown lighting up small LED lights as they rubbed a piece of Teflon across a small area of exposed polyester. They were also able to start a simple animation — the word “Hello” quickly appeared on an e-ink display — when these materials were rubbed against one another. Flipping a switch and rubbing some more reversed the animation.

“Though the fundamental principles of operation remain the same, it’s possible to build Paper Generators that respond to a number of different gestures, such as tapping, touching, rubbing or sliding,” explained Ivan Poupyrev, director of Disney Research, Pittsburgh’s Interaction Group in a statement. “We can imagine any number of ways to use this to add sights, sounds and other interactivity to books and other printed materials inexpensively and without having to worry about power sources.”

The same system works when a charged piece of Teflon is placed between two sheets of polyester and placed between pieces of paper. In this setup, the charge is created by rapidly tapping the pieces of paper, creating a charge between the Teflon and polyester. In the video, this method was demonstrated in a proposed game element wherein two players could see who could tap more quickly and turn on their respective LED light before their opponent.

Other applications include placing a piece of Teflon underneath another piece of paper and rotating this tiny device against the sheets of polyester. The same functionality can be achieved by sliding a piece of Teflon against these surfaces. Disney researchers also say these paper devices can be used remotely to trigger events on a computer. This could especially be useful in interactive e-books for children.