Battery-Free Game Boy Runs Forever on Kinetic Energy

The device, powered by button mashing and solar energy, could be a precursor for space technologies.
Chris Young

While Nintendo is busy re-releasing old games at premium prices, scientists at Northwestern University have pushed the boundaries by using the company's iconic Game Boy design to build a device that can run forever without a battery.

Josiah Hester, who co-led the research, says the proof-of-concept, which is run via solar energy and the power of button mashing, is another step in battery-free intermittent computing and sustainable technologies.


"It’s the first battery-free interactive device that harvests energy from user actions," Hester explained in a press release. "When you press a button, the device converts that energy into something that powers your gaming."

The device, called 'ENGAGE', has the same size and form factor as the original Game Boy handheld gaming console. The main difference? It is equipped with a set of solar panels attached to the front of the model.

Button presses are a second source of energy, as the buttons are wired to a set of capacitors that allow the machine to be powered up no matter how long it's been set aside. What's more, the researchers say that the console can play any old-school Nintendo Game Boy game using the original cartridges.

 "Sustainable gaming will become a reality, and we made a major step in that direction — by getting rid of the battery completely," said TU Delft’s Przemyslaw Pawelczak, who co-led the research with Hester. "With our platform, we want to make a statement that it is possible to make a sustainable gaming system that brings fun and joy to the user."

Sustainable gaming isn't the only goal for this device. As Hester explains, efficient electric devices that don't possess degradable batteries and are reliable over very long periods of time are the future when it comes to space exploration as well as high-risk environments here on Earth. Who would have thought Nintendo's retro Game Boy would be the perfect tool for developing reliable space tools of the future?

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