Researchers at the Delft University of Technology have presented a modified GameBoy that can work without batteries, using a bit of solar power AND converting the power of thumbs pressing on the GameBoy buttons into electrical power.
The conversion of pressure into electrical power is nothing new, it is based on piezoelectric effect where applying pressure to some materials electrical current is generated (remember those lighter we used to light the stove by pressing a lever and generating a spark? That’s the piezoelectric effect at work).
Before getting too much excited you need to consider that this “thumbs-powered” GameBoy uses a smaller screen and cannot play any sound because … the power produced by your thumbs activity is really really small. Hence, you can play games like Tetris where a good deal of thumbs activity is involved but not other types of game that would work for a few seconds and then stop awaiting from a new charge of power. True, the researchers have managed to include a self saving feature so that before completely running out of juice the GameBoy saves the game you are playing and will resume once power becomes available exactly from the point it froze.
I should confess that I was intrigued by this news because a long time ago I went to talk to an engineer at the research centre I was working at the time and asked him if it were possible to exploit the clicking on the keyboard (already at that time I was doing a lot of keyboard clicking) to scavenge some power. He was adamant: no way you can power a laptop by scavenging your keyboard activity. In these last 30 years, however, we have seen a tremendous decrease in power demand by chips and an increase in power scavenging technologies.
We can now power some sensors and RFID tags scavenging power and, as reported, even power a GameBoy (almost). Having investigated this news, however, I have to acknowledge that I am still far from typing on my laptop keyboard and forget about the mains… May be in a few more… decades!