Batteries, visualized

We have some pretty amazing technology, these days. And there’s a lot more that we could be doing, if not for energy concerns. This limits us in two ways — heat dissipation (the more your smartphone has to do, the more energy it uses, and all of this energy has to be dissipated as heat), and battery capacity.

Heat isn’t terribly hard to deal with — stick a bigger heatsink on it, or make the whole case metal. Battery life, however, has been the albatross around the neck of embedded engineers for decades.

Part of the problem is that we have an imperfect understanding of the chemical and physical changes that happen inside batteries. Metal dendrites form, shorting out the battery and potentially leading to fires and explosions. Battery-managment chips help with this, but it would be nice to be able to see these changes in real time, to help come up with better battery topologies and charging/discharging methods.

So a group at the University of Michigan made one with a window. It’s a vision cell, or “vis cell,” which allows researchers to see and characterize the ways the battery changes in response to various conditions. Check out the video.

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