At a summit today in San Francisco, Intel CTO Justin Rattner discussed some of Intel's R&D plans on creating components that were more self-sufficient, eco-friendly and helpful in the fight against global warming.
The most interesting part of Rattner's presentation was his discussion of power harvesting, and how they're looking at ways to incorporate free, renewable energy into personal devices as part of a hybrid power architecture. He thinks that technologies pulling power from light, but also heat, movement (such as rolling a Blackberry trackball), and wireless power transmissions have progressed to the point to where they can make personal devices markedly more efficient.
However, at this point, it's not efficient enough to power a gadget alone, but with a combination of adaptive power, intelligent power management, the traditional battery will last much longer without a charge.
When asked about the possibility of power harvesting from sonic sources, like the supposed piezoelectric phone concept which picks up a charge from talking, Rattner indirectly dismissed it, saying Intel had explored it back in the past, but were not currently researching the technology.
In any case, Rattner thinks it's possible for power harvesting to appear in consumer devices in as little as two years, provided they can prove it works and develop a spec for it. He says it's much easier to push new innovations into the market when they're not directly tied to a processor (those normally take 4-5 years).
Other projects he mentioned as part of Intel's research include servers with hardware-based management to better monitor the drops and increases in needed power, mobile sensors that can be used to monitor air quality on the fly and sensors which can power themselves, reporting back whatever information is needed.