By Katharine Gammon
Laptops are great for working on the go, but sometimes the fans can start to sound like jet engines. Now, a potential solution may be on the horizon in the form of a tiny thin device that cools next-generation electronics with just a fraction of energy normally needed.
Scientists at GE's global research labs adapted technology that improves air flow through jet engine compressors for a super-thin cooling device that could revolutionize consumer electronics and usher in a new generation of thinner, quieter, and more powerful tablets and laptops. "It's like a pair of lungs, it contracts and expands" says Peter deBock, a GE systems engineer.
When alternating current flows through the device, it contracts and expands at 150 times per second. The device sucks in air from the surrounding area and expels it at high velocity through the center, no bearings or a DC motor required.
Sticking the technology inside laptops or other gadgets makes room for more interesting electronics--and extends battery life, according to GE. It also can be made so quiet that it can't be heard, a far cry from noisy server rooms that require shouting. By cooling with current, there are no fans whirring. The technology can also be attached directly to the components that need cooling, to take the cooling process local. It's called a piezoelectric cooling jet.
The technology has been licensed to a Japanese company and could be on the market as soon as next year.
So what's the problem with current ways of cooling laptops and computers? They get junked up with dust and detritus in a matter of years and they often stop working long before the rest of a computer's components quit.
GE engineers were able to hack a laptop so that it could be cooled using only the new device, replacing the stock fan with a single piezo component. The outcome was something that took up less space, made no noise, and kept the computer at a steady temperature.
Elsewhere in the world of piezoelectrics, the same concept is being used to create X-rays that could be used for medical diagnostics in the developing world. The researchers say this could be a safer alternative in certain situations where medical radioisotopes are used, and maybe even lead to new dental X-ray scanners that are placed inside the mouth to fire the radiation outward. Another new device uses the same technique to power a pacemaker using only a heartbeat.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.