It has happened to all of us: the cell phone battery dies in the middle of that important call or the flashlight flickers out as soon as the lights do. Batteries are one of those necessary evils we cannot do without. The use of a technology called ambient backscatter has the potential to alleviate some of the hassle by repurposing wireless signals that are already floating around. The signals would serve their primary communication function while also acting as a source of battery power. For a consumer, this eliminates those dropped calls and fights with tangled cords and wrong-sized chargers.
From a business perspective, the lack of those cords and chargers may very well be a reason to make sure this kind of product never comes to market. While the device may be the primary product, companies rely on accessories such as cords, batteries, and cases for a solid chunk of revenue used to offset the costs of the product. If a company feels its interests are threatened by new technology, it might find ways to stall or even completely destroy its production. A well-known example of this is illustrated in Who Killed the Electric Car, a documentary in which large players in the automobile and oil industries used political forces to destroy a functional electric car in the early 90s.
This brings up an interesting question about where the primary allegiance of a company should lie. There is a school of thought that says a company’s first priority is to serve the stakeholders who have a vested interest in its success. The flip side to that would be that a company is obligated to use its knowledge and expertise to provide the most beneficial product possible to its customers.
If and when ambient backscatter is ready for consumers, it will be interesting to see which route companies choose.
Author: Natacha Arora