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Next Year, Your Smartphone Might Actually Charge Itself Using Solar Power

"Invisible" solar cells may soon turn smartphone displays into battery-assisting solar panels

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Credit: SunPartner Technologies

Tired of budgeting how much time you spend using your smartphone? Wouldn’t it be great if smartphones could just simply recharge themselves?

Well, perhaps as soon as next year, they will. That’s the tentative time frame that French startup SunPartner Technologies hopes to finally bring to the consumer market its Wysips Crystal technology, which overlays “invisible” solar cells onto the smartphone display. The company claims that Wysips, which stands for “What You See Is Photovoltaic Surface,” can capture energy from any light source, natural and artificial, indoor and outdoor, and convert it at a rate of 15 to 20 percent efficiency. This translates to an additional 1o minutes of talk time for every hour the cells are exposed to light. And the kicker is that the company assures everyone that human eyes won’t even notice the thin layer of solar cells that’s embedded into the touchscreen.

“We’ve had users test out prototypes with the latest version of Wysips and they were pleased with how it worked,” says Matthieu de Broca, SunPartner’s Marketing and Sales Director for Wysips.

The material, comprised of photovoltaic crystals, is made invisible through a process that bonds the tiny cells with optical micro-lenses. De Broca says researchers are continually working to refine the technology, noting that in some cases, it may be possible to reach 92 and even 95 percent transparency (Wysips has reached 90 percent). However, the drawback with improving clarity is that doing so requires decreasing the amount of solar cells used. The challenge then is to find the right balance to ensure that the feature works as a useful addition while also not taking away from the user experience.

Engadget blogger Sean Cooper tried out demo products modified with the the 90 percent transparent film back in January and felt at that time the “invisible” claim was still a bit of a misnomer. “Honestly, the demo sets available were pretty worn out looking,” he wrote. “Though the overlay spoke for itself in that it was still visible at extreme angles but barely when viewing straight on.”

Still, de Broca is optimistic that Wysips Crystal will be ready for prime time at some point next year. SunPartner is already in talks with Chinese electronics giant TCL Communications to develop smartphone consumer models that include Alcatel One Touch phones. TCL Communications is the seventh largest mobile phone company and de Broca estimates that mass-produced integration of the technology would only cost manufacturers an additional dollar or two, which he thinks is reasonable since he doesn’t expect the technology to replace the need for charging devices.

“Wysips is more like a supplementary feature, so it won’t compete with existing technology,” he adds. “All we’re doing is just making smartphones smarter.”

About Tuan C. Nguyen
Tuan C. Nguyen

Tuan C. Nguyen is a Silicon Valley-based journalist specializing in technology, health, design and innovation. His work has appeared in ABCNews.com, NBCNews.com, FoxNews.com, CBS' SmartPlanet and LiveScience.

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