Home / Blog / Thumbs’ power

Thumbs’ power

The “old” GameBoy is still a source of innovation, now turning your thumbs’ energy into electricity. Image credit: Przemyslaw Pawelczak

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!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.