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The Next Big Thing

Beam of light may charge smartphones of the future thanks to China's bright sparks

Three mainland Microsoft researchers have built a prototype that charges mobile phones using a torch beam and an Xbox game sensor

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2015, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 12:11pm

Charging the battery of your smartphone in future could be a simple as putting it on a desk - thanks to a bright idea by three Chinese Microsoft researchers.

Yunxin Liu, Zhen Qin, and Chunshui Zhao, who work in Beijing, have created a simple phone-charging system using a beam of light.

Their prototype uses a motion sensor from an Xbox console and a torch, and eliminates the need to search for cables, plugs or docking bays.

It features an automated system that incorporates cameras to locate devices and the light source to then charge them.

The team's AutoCharge prototype uses a device fitted into the ceiling of a room, with a camera that is able to identify the location of a phone so it can be charged.

A beam of light from a torch is then shone onto the phone and converted into electricity.

But AutoCharge works only on smartphones that have had a solar panel fitted to them. The solar panel is required to convert the light energy into electricity in order to charge the battery.

"The AutoCharge system automatically locates a smartphone on a desk and charges it," the three researchers wrote in a paper, published in English on the research page of Microsoft's company website.

To accurately pick out a phone inside a room, the prototype uses a number of different cameras. These help to determine things such as depth of field, different distances and dimensions, and even the number of handsets.

If more than one smartphone is placed on the same desk, the charger will automatically charge them one by one.

The research paper says that the charger features a Microsoft Kinect Sensor designed for the Xbox game console, which incorporates advanced infrared technology.

The prototype uses image recognition software to detect and locate smartphone-like objects, while a beam of light from a torch is then used to charge the devices.

"Experimental results show that our prototype is able to quickly detect a smartphone on a desk in various settings and charge it as quickly as existing wired chargers do," the authors write.

"Although our prototype is still far away from being a real product - and may require further improvements - we have shown that it is feasible, and have made a significant step towards automatic charging of smartphones and other mobile devices."