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Rashid: Battery power is a tricky thing

Microsoft's research chief talks about computing in rural India, the Kindle, and how your laptop is essentially a bomb that (hopefully) will never detonate.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
2 min read

LOS ANGELES--You may not know it, but you are carrying 100 watts of power inside you.

The problem is, much to the lament of all those whose cell phones and iPods run out of battery juice, researchers haven't found a very good way to harness that energy.

In an interview with CNET News, Microsoft research chief Rick Rashid said the best that researchers have come up with is to put solar panels on a hat or perhaps harness some power by putting something in one's shoe.

"You can get power, but not a whole lot," he said of the shoe approach. On the solar front, he said, "It really would only work in Los Angeles."

The issue is, it takes quite a bit of energy to power all our digital devices. In part, he said, that's why we hear every now and then about a cell phone or PC catching fire when a battery glitch occurs.

"Your typical laptop is a bomb," Rashid said. Even an iPod or cell phone battery has a whole lot of potential energy in a small space. "If you at any point thought that would be released all at once you wouldn't put that in your pocket. It would blow a nice hole in you."

We also talked about more pleasant subjects--in particular, some of the work that Microsoft researchers have been doing to deliver basic technology to get farming tips and health care to the rural poor.

The company's Project Green uses DVDs to bring farming tips to remote farmers in India, while another effort aims to distribute information on crop conditions to shared community cell phones via text messages.

Update: One other interesting tidbit--Microsoft plans to change the name of Boku, the programming tool for kids that Rashid demonstrated in his keynote on Wednesday.

The thing is, a Google search for Boku turns up some extremely not-safe-for kids images. This time, Rashid said Microsoft will look for a name that has no association to anything, just to be safe. I suggested Visual Studio 2010 Junior Edition, but I don't think that's the route they will go either.

Check below for a video interview I did with Rashid on Project Green and health-related initiatives. Sorry, no battery talk in the video.