The Nokia E-Cu concept phone doesn't need to plug in, it charges from any heat source. Just lay it on top of a radiator and it starts soaking in the energy.
Designer Patrick Hyland says it can even work off the warmth of your pocket. The first time "it would take approximately seven hours to reach full charge, then after that it's continuous[ly charging] by keeping the phone in areas between 86 degrees and 104 degrees Fahrenheit." That's one hot pocket.
He's put a thermogenerator inside the phone that converts heat into electric potential energy. To better conduct the heat to that little power plant in your pocket, the E-Cu (E for energy, Cu for copper) is encased in copper backing with engraved heat sinks like those normally used to keep electronics from overheating.
And it's an eye catcher. You'll certainly turn some heads if you pull out a shimmering copper-coated phone. Click through the slideshow for some additional close up photos of the prototype. The etchings on the back both increase surface area and represent a parched earth appearance, since, as Hyland reminds us, that is what the effect of heat is on the natural environment.
Nokia doesn't have current plans to build the phone, so for now it remains a concept. But Hyland says he's open to anyone who wants to collaborate.
For Americans this technology would certainly be convenient. It would also save a bit on energy bills and waste, "Annually, unwanted phone chargers produce 51,000 tons of waste in addition to the greenhouse gases created by the production of the electricity needed to charge them," Hyland says. So a charger-free phone is also a "green" phone. Though adapting our plug-in habits would help a bunch too: most cell phone related energy use comes from leaving your charger plugged in all day unnecessarily.
The real potential for charger-free cell phone technology is what it could enable places where plugging in isn't an option, like rural areas in the developing world.
Cell phones are spreading faster than power lines and bringing with them countless enterprise opportunities, aid, and health advances. Here's GOOD's infographic on cell phone use around the world. A phone like the E-Cu, if it ever comes to be, would enable all manner of expanded aid and development by phone projects. Let's hope Patrick finds a collaborator.