Meet the Tiny Windmills That Could Charge Your Phone Someday

Ten of these little power plants could fit on a grain of rice

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Courtesy of J.C. Chiao

A MEMS micro windmill, designed by Dr. Smitha Rao and J.C. Chiao, Professor of Electrical Engineering at University of Texas - Arlington.

Forgot your charger? Open a window and let your phone get a little air.

Researchers at the University of Texas Arlington say they have designed tiny windmills that could hook up to a cellphone and convert wind into battery life. The windmills are so small—10 can fit on a single grain of rice—that hundreds could potentially be connected to a phone to gather energy from natural wind or from waving the phone in the air for a few minutes.

Though the technology is at the earliest stages of development and may never make it to mass market, the researchers say it has already drawn the interest of the Taiwan-based technology company WinMEMS, which has agreed to commercialize the micro-windmills.

The designers, electrical engineering professor J.-C. Chiao and graduate research associate Smitha Rao, drew from traditional origami concepts and modern semiconductor device layouts to create the tiny power plants, which use durable nickel alloy material. They say the windmills could be used for quotidian tasks like energizing portable electronics or powering the lights in your home.

“We’ve only scratched the surface on how these micro-windmills might be used,” Rao said in a statement.


Oh Oh! This is no good!  Those tiny windmills will kill way to many bugs in the environment, so we can't have that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Reports of this sort should be approached with a great deal of skepticism, which the Time folks have clearly failed to do.  The problem is that no claim at all has been made concerning the usable energy output of these devices.  When I look at the pictures, all I see is a micro-propeller and no micro-generator.  The latter would be the more interesting development.  Without it, there is no usable output at all.  I seriously doubt that it can be demonstrated that the maximum amount of power that could be harnessed by any means from a breeze over (as opposed to through) a small area (e.g., hand sized) is sufficient to have any practical value.  

It may be that Time has failed to include some relevant technical information; but the fact that that some researchers have fabricated a miniature pinwheel is hardly impressive.  Indeed, modern fabrication techniques will support fabrication of much smaller devices of this sort.


If this invention pans out, we can eliminate a coal-fired power plant or two by installing the devices in Congress. I am assuming that hot air works better.