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Man, they said we better accentuate the positive... eliminate the negative... latch on to the affirmative....
July 7, 2010 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Microsoft introduces "an amazingly obvious tweak to battery tech that should save us some headaches, as well as several trillion hours of head-scratching and peering into dark holes." The innovation, called "Instaload" is a simple, low-tech battery contact design that allows cylindrical batteries (disposable and rechargeable) to be inserted in either direction, so users don't have to worry about which end is positive or negative. How? It puts a set of positive and negative contacts at both ends of a battery compartment. (From Microsoft: Press Release / Overview / Technology Brochure (pdf))

The new design can be used with AA, AAA, C, D batteries, as well as CR123, and Microsoft is already licensing the technology out to other manufacturers, including Duracell and flashlight-maker AE Light.

GizMag:
Idiot-proofing cracks aside (I know I've managed to put batteries in backwards many times), there is also clear benefit here for people with hearing, vision or learning disabilities. Microsoft has recognized this and is offering a royalty-free license program to suppliers and manufacturers of accessibility devices.
posted by zarq (113 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
This reminds me of those infomercials where they offer to solve a problem that really isn't much of a problem. Like a can organizer for your pantry, because if you don't keep them neat and tidy cans will rain down onto your head. It certainly solves a problem, but for $19.95, and you really didn't have that problem before.

If the licensing fees, etc. for adding this tech to consumer electronics adds to the price, I guess I don't understand why I need it - I've been getting by pretty well with the current battery tech for many years.
posted by uaudio at 8:02 AM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, that's damn clever.
posted by odinsdream at 8:02 AM on July 7, 2010


An extremely excellent idea...unless it requires me to use Microsoft™ Batterie~1 from now on.
posted by DU at 8:05 AM on July 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


uaudio: This reminds me of those infomercials where they offer to solve a problem that really isn't much of a problem. Like a can organizer for your pantry, because if you don't keep them neat and tidy cans will rain down onto your head. It certainly solves a problem, but for $19.95, and you really didn't have that problem before.

Exactly, this is like that stupid plastic tube you put spaghetti in and dump boiling water into. If cooking a pot of spaghetti, or putting a battery in a flashlight, is too challenging for you then I'm really worried about you.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:05 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


But I like putting batteries in backward!
posted by box at 8:05 AM on July 7, 2010


The bad news: People who use this technology will not be allowed to drive a car or have children.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:06 AM on July 7, 2010


Also: I was hoping this was going to be a 'running Windows on a laptop' kind of battery fix, sometimes I forget that they make mice and stuff too.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:07 AM on July 7, 2010


I've put a lot of batteries in backward, and I'd like to say that improper, non-existent, or concealed labeling of the battery orientation has been the primary cause. When this happens, I re-inspect the battery installation and re-insert them appropriately.

While some might consider this a rather trivial task in the grand scheme of things, it's left me thinking "GODDAMNIT THESE FUCKING BATTERIES!! I'M SO TIRED OF WASTING ALL THESE HOURS OF MY LIFE ON THESE FUCKING BATTERIES!! Do they expect me to follow directions!? How am I supposed to read and understand symbols!? Fucking shit." Then, in exasperation, I throw the appliance to the floor and yell "THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY!!!!!"

And now that there is, I can get back to my life...until I realize that all the appliances I already own have this CUMBERSOME OLD BATTERY TECHNOLOGY WITH POLARITY!! THERE HAS TO BE AN EVEN BETTER WAY FOR EVERYTHING TO WORK ALWAYS!!!
posted by nTeleKy at 8:07 AM on July 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


As the poster stated, though, it's great for people who don't see well/at all. Also, it's kind of great that such a simple, simple thing wasn't figured out for decades. I kind of wish some down-on-his/her-luck schmo had figured it out, but oh well.
posted by Huck500 at 8:07 AM on July 7, 2010


The bad news: People who use this technology will not be allowed to drive a car or have children.

Fixed.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 8:08 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Microsoft is always a polarising topic.
posted by Flashman at 8:09 AM on July 7, 2010 [19 favorites]


This reminds me of those infomercials where they offer to solve a problem that really isn't much of a problem.

We are outside of a forest cave, in heavy rain. A man is quickly loading batteries into a flashlight with shaking hands. He hears a scream from inside the cave and quickly runs in, forgetting to turn it on. Darkness. More screams. He tries to turn on the flashlight but it doesn't work. He hits it against the wall as the screaming drowns out the thuds of the plastic against the rock. Suddenly, the screams end. He walks, dumbfounded and numb, out of the cave. He no longer notices the rain as he steps outside and opens the back of the flashlight. A bolt of lightning in the background illuminates his hand: the central battery was in backwards.

DURACELL: WE KEEP YOUR CHILDREN FROM BEING EATEN BY BEARS.
posted by griphus at 8:11 AM on July 7, 2010 [28 favorites]


A desire for all improvements to be radical and paradigm-shifting is childish. Incrementalism is not an absolute evil.
posted by DU at 8:11 AM on July 7, 2010 [24 favorites]


Knowing which way to put batteries into electronic devices is my only skill, and now Microsoft has destroyed the market. Damn you Micro$$$oft!
posted by fuq at 8:13 AM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Credit where credit is due:

1) This is the sort of thing that is incredibly obvious -- once you have seen it. The common household batteries -- AAA, D, etc. -- were defined in 1947 by ANSI C18.1 "Dry Cells and Batteries, Specifications." And yet, nobody figured out this incredibly obvious thing until Microsoft did in 2010. So, maybe, it's not as obvious as one thinks.

2) Offering royalty free licensing to makers of accessibility devices puts this tech in the hands of the people who really need it most -- those who can't easily decipher a tiny battery compartment.

So, you know what? Good on you, Microsoft. +10 Good Points.
posted by eriko at 8:16 AM on July 7, 2010 [19 favorites]


Has this really been a problem for anyone?
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:16 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Incrementalism is not an absolute evil.

Well, it's an eeny-weeny tiny bit evil.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:16 AM on July 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


From the first link: "Unfortunately, this being Microsoft, it wants everybody to play by Microsoft’s rules, and to pay for the privilege. Microsoft “offers fair and reasonable licensing terms” for Instaload, which is kind of like offering licensing terms on the idea of shopping with a shopping cart."
posted by new brand day at 8:18 AM on July 7, 2010


Your favorite technological innovation sucks.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:19 AM on July 7, 2010


This is a pretty cute idea. It probably won't see widespread adoption, though, because it's not a big enough differentiator for a consumer, and commodity batteries are only used in very low-end applications, where an extra ten cents for a different contact technology eats half your margin.
posted by phooky at 8:19 AM on July 7, 2010


I guess I don't understand why I need it - I've been getting by pretty well with the current battery tech for many years.

I think we can all agree that it's not as if Microsoft has achieved World Peace.

But I can see how it might be convenient. Especially for folks who have to change the batteries on a camera or flashlight in the dark. Or a parent (and I speak from personal experience here) who has had to swap batteries in a baby-soothing gadget in the dark while an infant howled, a situation where urgency is sanity-saving. Or for a person has vision problems or a learning disability.
posted by zarq at 8:19 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Devices using this new connector design will proudly sport smooth clean plastic surfaces devoid of any orientation diagrams or polarity markings, thus confusing and frustrating people used to decades of (+) and (-). "Which way do I put the batteries in. Gawddamnit!".

But wait, I'm so wrong, they would easily learn the correct answer when they read the owner's manual!

[snort]

Kidding.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:21 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"It looks like you are trying to figure out which way the batteries go in. Would you like some help?"
posted by bondcliff at 8:23 AM on July 7, 2010 [14 favorites]


this is like that stupid plastic tube you put spaghetti in and dump boiling water into

This was really useful for me when I lived in a place where I had a tea kettle and no stove.
posted by grouse at 8:23 AM on July 7, 2010


zarq:
I think we can all agree that it's not as if Microsoft has achieved World Peace.

But I can see how it might be convenient.


Sometimes I put my socks on inside out. But, that doesn't mean I need special 'non-inside out' socks.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:24 AM on July 7, 2010


We are outside of a forest cave, in heavy rain. A man is quickly loading batteries into a flashlight with shaking hands. He hears a scream from inside the cave and quickly runs in, forgetting to turn it on. Darkness. More screams. He tries to turn on the flashlight but it doesn't work. He hits it against the wall as the screaming drowns out the thuds of the plastic against the rock. Suddenly, the screams end. He walks, dumbfounded and numb, out of the cave. He no longer notices the rain as he steps outside and opens the back of the flashlight. A bolt of lightning in the background illuminates his hand: the central battery was in backwards.

The way I understand how this idea works, that scenario would still happen. I think it only works if your battery-powered device does not rely on the cells being physically stacked end to end to operate like a large flashlight does.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2010


This seems like a fragile system. I know in my older devices there are worn contacts, accumulations of corrosion, and lots of other imperfections. This system seems to rely on the height of the "nub" on the positive terminal to ensure the right connection, which means tolerances in the millimeters. I'm guessing that this will work fine in a brand new device, but within a couple of years you'll have lots of otherwise workable things going in the trash heap because something got a bit out of alignment in the battery compartment.

Also, most cylindrical battery housings have either a spring or a bent metal tab to keep the battery held in place and to ensure a solid electrical contact. It's not clear how you achieve that in this system.

This could be great for products aimed at older or disabled customers, but I wouldn't want it on my stuff.
posted by bjrubble at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


that doesn't mean I need special 'non-inside out' socks.

That's genius. Someone get on that.
posted by bondcliff at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


How is this supposed to work with flashlights? If I understand this correctly, it only works for compartments with one battery or with multiple batteries side-by-side; all hand-held flashlights I know have the batteries in series, a case where this technology wouldn't work (ok, I also have one really old flashlight that uses those batteries, but it's really really obvious if you put them in wrong)..
posted by PontifexPrimus at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2010


...commodity batteries are only used in very low-end applications, where an extra ten cents for a different contact technology eats half your margin.

How are you defining low-end? Seriously. I ask because most children's toys and gadgets require batteries, and range in price from inexpensive to "while my wallet gently weeps."
posted by zarq at 8:28 AM on July 7, 2010


I don't have a problem with incremental improvements, and I don't really have much of a problem with incremental costs. Just pointing out that this is not really that big of a problem for most consumers. For the blind or other applications, fine.

If you remove the plastic sleeve off a battery the whole side of the battery becomes a negative terminal. They put the sleeve there to make it less likely that you will unintentionally bridge the terminals and the battery will blow up. The new design seems like it exploits that fact. IANAL but it seems strange that you could own this IP and license it. If I'm Sony, can't I just make this technology slightly different and avoid the fees to Microsoft?
posted by uaudio at 8:30 AM on July 7, 2010


Also product makers can now omit the backwards-battery-protecting diodes from their designs, saving a couple cents.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:30 AM on July 7, 2010


that doesn't mean I need special 'non-inside out' socks.

That's genius. Someone get on that.


There's probably some way to wear this as a sock.
posted by griphus at 8:31 AM on July 7, 2010


Microsoft “offers fair and reasonable licensing terms” for Instaload, which is kind of like offering licensing terms on the idea of shopping with a shopping cart."

If it was as obvious as that, someone would have done it in the 50+ years since battery sizes were standardized. BTW, someone had to invent the shopping cart once upon a time too.


Devices using this new connector design will proudly sport smooth clean plastic surfaces devoid of any orientation diagrams or polarity markings, thus confusing and frustrating people used to decades of (+) and (-). "Which way do I put the batteries in. Gawddamnit!".

The correct solution to this is to arbitrarily label one of the terminals (+) and the other one (-), the same way that software developers replaced "press any key" with "press space bar" even though any key will do.
posted by atrazine at 8:32 AM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


But, that doesn't mean I need special 'non-inside out' socks.

And not all improvements target a "need" at least not until you've had some retrospect.

For instance, you may not "need" a non-inside out sock for when you put them on, but it sure would be handy for taking them off. And by that I mean folding laundry. Kids take socks off every which way and if it didn't matter if they were inside out or not then that'd be time saved.
posted by DU at 8:34 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


...commodity batteries are only used in very low-end applications, where an extra ten cents for a different contact technology eats half your margin.

I don't expect every two-bit manufacturer to switch over in the next 3 months, no. But slowly these connectors will drift down from the high/specialty end until they are standard and the world will be better.

I sentence all naysayers to come back and re-read their comments in this thread 10 years from now. You guys sound like hidebound reactionaries. "In my day, we installed batteries backwards BOTH WAYS!"
posted by DU at 8:36 AM on July 7, 2010


that's fixing a minor problem - how about doing it with jumper cables?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:38 AM on July 7, 2010


Duracell: The copper top and bottom?
posted by Kabanos at 8:39 AM on July 7, 2010


I'm with DU and others on the pro-side. For once, MS has actually innovated something here. We can debate how significant the innovation is, how mercantile MS is being in handling licensing, etc., but this is a real, creative innovation! I wasn't sure MS could do that anymore.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:41 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of those infomercials where they offer to solve a problem that really isn't much of a problem.

e.g.
posted by malphigian at 8:41 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Incrementalism is not an absolute evil."

Unless you're that frog.

Seriously though, if this idea can be cheaply and reliably implemented, unlicensed copiers are going to make it the new standard. Is it getting warm in here, or is it just me?
posted by sneebler at 8:42 AM on July 7, 2010


Steven Wright's girlfriend's dad is gonna pissed.
posted by straight at 8:48 AM on July 7, 2010


Offering royalty free licensing to makers of accessibility devices puts this tech in the hands of the people who really need it most -- those who can't easily decipher a tiny battery compartment.

It reminds me of how I used to mock the very existence of electric can openers. Then I broke my arm and tried to open a can with one arm using a manual opener, which is impossible as far as I can tell.
posted by smackfu at 8:48 AM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


o__O

O__o

Works both ways.
posted by davejay at 9:02 AM on July 7, 2010



that doesn't mean I need special 'non-inside out' socks.

That's genius. Someone get on that.


Get the fantastic new invention everyone's talking about: Klein* socks!

Time to get dressed? They're never inside out! Time to wash them? They're always inside out!

Interested? Don't bother ordering. You're already wearing them.

* not affiliated with Calvin Klein
posted by CaseyB at 9:03 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


This seems like a fragile system.

That's what I came here to say. When I saw the pictures of the actual design my jaw dropped.

Batteries and terminals of this design is a grenade or firebomb in your pocket just waiting to happen. There's enough energy in a standard old school dry zinc AA cell to start a fire - in the higher capacity alkaline or much higher capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries there's 3-5 times the energy.

Regular batteries are fairly immune to shorting out if you put a handful of them in your pocket or backpack, even with a handful of metallic coins or keys, though it has happened rather often.

But putting positive and negative terminals at both ends? Yeah, that's going to be a lawsuit in the first month that it's released to the general public. Someone's camera bag or pockets are going to catch fire or get severely burned - or even possibly explode with more force than an M80. Heck, what happens when you have a junk drawer full of them? Someone's going to burn their house down.

Also, if those tabs get bent at all or if the batteries are inserted slightly mis-aligned there will be the same risks while they're still in the device. The batteries could shift in the battery compartment while in use and cause some pretty serious damage. Old AA batteries can be mis-aligned by about a centimeter and still work safely. These new batteries will have an alignment tolerance of about a millimeter.

It's not really a problem that needs solving, and it probably shouldn't be solved in this way.

However, I can think of an asymmetrical design that would be less likely to short out in the above scenarios, permit end-to-end battery stacking and be bidirectional - but do we really need yet another kind of battery? This requires requires not only retooling battery production lines, it also requires redesigning gadgets and devices and also relies on re-educating consumers all over the world. All while paying for a license to use the new design. And then stocking the batteries alongside all of the old batteries at a higher price.

And of course the price is going to be more. New tooling for the production line, licensing the technology from MS, new packaging and advertising. No wonder Duracell is on board with this.

But then again this seems highly wasteful and perfectly in line with Microsoft's "I want to be your annoying middleman and gatekeeper and lock you into paying for a product you don't really need" corporate philosophy. It's the physical manifestation of "PlaysForSure".

Really, this isn't Microsoft looking to solve a problem, because for the most part it's a non-problem. What it is is a weird bid for product licensing just about as annoying as printer ink.

(And I'm not the only one who was hoping it was a battery capacity or charging time innovation.)
posted by loquacious at 9:07 AM on July 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


Sometimes I turn a battery around on purpose, in devices that turn on on their own too easily, or things I rarely use, to save battery life. WHAT ABOUT MY NEEDS MICROSOFT?
posted by gottabefunky at 9:10 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I came to the same conclusion, loquacious. They've switched the failure mode of something that regularly fails from annoying (loss of contact) to catastrophic (short circuit).
posted by CaseyB at 9:13 AM on July 7, 2010


If Microsoft acknowledges the cumulative time lost in getting the batteries the right way around, do they have any official estimates on the lost productivity of every white collar person in the world spending anywhere from minutes to hours wrestling with the failings of Windows and Office every day?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:16 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


All of the weird comments aside, this is a good idea. And it appears to be a modification of the receptacles, not the batteries, so you'll be able to keep using all the batteries you have now. But if you put them in "backwards" in one of these devices, it'll still work.

One possible point of concern is that the positive end of the battery could potentially contact the negative end of its terminal during installation, which could cause brief direct shorts to the negative plate on the bottom of the battery. That's very bad for most battery technologies.

I wanted to look at the technology to find out if it had anything to protect against that, and I'm somewhat astonished to see that you have to sign multiple agreements before they'll even give you documentation on what they're doing. What the fuck, Microsoft? The whole point of patents is that you fully reveal how it works. There's no way I'm going to sign an NDA to find out about a patented technique.

I'm sure Microsoft probably doesn't care about me, because I'm not going to be licensing the technology myself, but I think that's shortsighted; I might be pushing my gadget companies to use it, if I could read the documentation. As is, I'm certainly not going to be sending Logitech any letters.

If you want to get into patents, then don't treat them like copyrights, you big dummies.
posted by Malor at 9:21 AM on July 7, 2010


I like the idea, but unfortunately it wouldn't have saved me from the near disaster I created when I inserted one of eight (or maybe it was 12) batteries backwards in the highly serial configuration needed for a high intensity, high high price flashlight I was giving as a gift to my pop. What a mess.
posted by NortonDC at 9:23 AM on July 7, 2010


> short circuit
> catastrophic failure

Yep, this is clueless. All you need is a tiny flake of something conductive in your pocket or purse to short out a battery with its contacts so close together.

Just put a 9-volt battery in your pocket with a handful of coins and sit quietly for a while and see what happens.

Besides--throw out all your multiple-cell batteries?
M@glight is going to have a fit over this
posted by hank at 9:33 AM on July 7, 2010


The way I understand how this idea works, that scenario would still happen. I think it only works if your battery-powered device does not rely on the cells being physically stacked end to end to operate like a large flashlight does.

That scenario would still happen anyway, unless the flashlight was on the end of a large-bore shotgun or high-powered rifle. Otherwise it would probably be better that you couldn't see the bear eat your child.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:37 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apple did this first in 1967.
posted by longbaugh at 9:38 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The main area I could see this really benefiting users is in devices that are going to have the batteries swapped in stressful situations; flashlights/ LED lanterns, weather radios, walkie-talkies, things like that.

I've got a couple of lights that came in really handy in an 18 hour blackout we had a couple of weeks ago, but swapping the batteries out of one of them in the dark could have been a lot easier had I not needed to figure out which direction each of the six batteries needed to be alternated to.
posted by quin at 9:44 AM on July 7, 2010


...but do we really need yet another kind of battery? This requires requires not only retooling battery production lines...

What. On. Earth. are you talking about? They redesigned the receptacle, not the battery. There's no shorting problem.

"Incrementalism is not an absolute evil."

Unless you're that frog.


If something is evil in some circumstances but not other, it is by definition not an absolute evil.
posted by DU at 9:57 AM on July 7, 2010


If it was as obvious as that, someone would have done it in the 50+ years since battery sizes were standardized. BTW, someone had to invent the shopping cart once upon a time too.

Seriously, that shopping cart snipe was inane. D batteries have been around since 1898. So it wasn't that obvious.
posted by 6550 at 9:59 AM on July 7, 2010


Oh you mean if something somehow gets inside the battery compartment and touches the terminal sides itself? Two responses:

1) Have you ever actually opened a battery powered device? The ends of the battery are separated but the first thing every designer does is brings both + and - wires to the same spot on the circuitboard (if not before). So this problem already exists.

2) Just coat the edges of the terminals so they can't touch each other electrically. They may already be doing this but omitting it in the explanations for simplicity.
posted by DU at 10:00 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is just to say

I have beaten
the batteries
that were causing
the paradox

and which
you probably think
solving
was sort of unnecessary

Forgive me
someone messed with my computer
and my Office Assistant
has been set to Schrödinger
posted by oulipian at 10:01 AM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


The way I understand how this idea works, that scenario would still happen. I think it only works if your battery-powered device does not rely on the cells being physically stacked end to end to operate like a large flashlight does.

For things like a flashlight where there's only two contacts no matter how many batteries, you obviously have to make your batteries all go the same way. But which way doesn't matter. For incandescent flashlights it already doesn't, so: great.

For something where the batteries each have two contacts, you can mix them up however you want; each contact has 3 leads, and presumably you wire up +1/-1 and +2/-2 are just wired up in parallel. One of them will be connected and the other will not.

My concern is that NiMH batteries will mechanically not fit. They have slightly larger nubs, and I've had to shave down the housing of some battery compartments to get them to work.
posted by aubilenon at 10:01 AM on July 7, 2010


Cool. Now when you get bored of having your batteries one way you can switch them around.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:02 AM on July 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


There's enough energy in a standard old school dry zinc AA cell to start a fire - in the higher capacity alkaline or much higher capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries there's 3-5 times the energy.

Yes, there's more than enough energy. But good luck getting that kind of power out of a carbon-zinc or alkaline battery, and it's hard to get out of a NiMH battery-- the internal resistance of the battery is high enough that drawing the current needed to get something hot to start a fire with varies from hard to impossible.

NiCd batteries are a whole different beast. Internal resistance on them is on the order of 5 mΩ -- and shorting one of those can quickly result in a surprising amount of current -- and when run through a thin conductor, a wire that's glowing red hot.
posted by eriko at 10:08 AM on July 7, 2010


There's no way I'm going to sign an NDA to find out about a patented technique.

Luckily you can just Google "instaload patent" and it comes right up: #7527893
posted by smackfu at 10:11 AM on July 7, 2010


Well, that's damn clever.

Microsoft will find a way to muck this up by the time it gets to market.
posted by mazola at 10:12 AM on July 7, 2010


I am pretty skeptical about the novelty of this idea. Not doubtful that they were the first to patent or even bring it to market, but I'm suspicious that it's obvious enough that other people have thought of it and decided it was a bad or impractical idea, and that there's a reason why nobody has bothered to patent or market it.

I've had big lantern-type flashlights (the kind that take the big 6V batteries about 3"x3"x6") that had contacts designed so that you could put the battery in any orientation, as long as the contacts were 'up', and the light would work. This is possible because one contact is in the center of the battery and the other one is near the edge, so if you have one contact in the center and the other circular near the edge of the flashlight top, it always works.

It's not like portable-device designers weren't aware that batteries could be put in wrong, or didn't think that it'd be nice to make things "always work."

So I suspect that there are reasons why designs like this have been considered in the past and dismissed. The one that comes to mind is that if the battery is malformed, or if the contacts are damaged (covered with corrosion, bent, etc.), then you could end up shorting out the battery. There doesn't seem to be much in the way, besides the mechanical alignment of the contacts, to prevent this.

Some modern rechargeable batteries do pretty nasty things when shorted out, so unless there is some sort of overcurrent clamping that is part of the specification, I think there could be a potential overheat/fire/battery-bursting risk.

Also, I've definitely seen some crappy bargain batteries (those old 'Red Cells' from Best Buy come to mind, as do the $1.50/10 Ikea AAs) that have stamped tops where the + contact doesn't seem to stick up as squarely as on higher-quality brand name batteries. Even though they may be technically non-conformant to the ISO standard for AA/LR6 batteries, consumers are going to blame the device that's picky before they blame the batteries that work everywhere else.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:12 AM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


How are you defining low-end? Seriously.

In high-end devices, miniaturization is a big design constraint. If you're trying to get the size of your phone, mp3 player, camera, ipad, etc. down, putting a big cylinder in there is a worst-case scenario. Look at the battery packs that your expensive gizmos use: they're universally rectangular.

If you're making a system that's intended for daily use, and has a big power draw, you're going to want it to be rechargeable. Most battery packs on things like laptops, etc. contain a lot of additional hardware to regulate voltage, ensure the pack doesn't explode during charging, and so on.

What you're left with are very low-power devices (led keychain lights, remote controls) and large devices that aren't intended for constant or everyday use (RC trucks, flashlights). They're not all necessarily "cheap", but by and large they're commodity hardware. In the cases where it's vitally important that the battery be the right way around (fire alarms, for example), the solution has generally been a 9V clip.
posted by phooky at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2010


Also, I've definitely seen some crappy bargain batteries

I've had those same crappy batteries not work properly in existing battery compartments. Sometimes the device's contact will be embedded in a depression and they don't make the connection properly due to that lack of height.
posted by smackfu at 10:18 AM on July 7, 2010


Simplification via difficultication
posted by A189Nut at 10:19 AM on July 7, 2010


It's funny how hostile everyone is to this idea, on this site or other ones. Is it because it's Microsoft? Because internet people are getting older and more conservative?
posted by smackfu at 10:23 AM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This battery totally makes up for all the companies Microsoft ripped off over the years.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:25 AM on July 7, 2010


Doesn't this extreme proximity of + and - contacts encourage the build-up of electrolysis-precipitated gunk? Like on the terminals of a car battery?

In the case of the 2xAA mouse battery configurations demonstrated, it would be easy enough to just wire the battery receptacle so that the cells both went in the same way. That would simplify the insertion of cells without inventing any goofy new contacts. Some mice actually work that way. How's that for simple and amazingly obvious?
posted by Western Infidels at 10:25 AM on July 7, 2010


WHOLLY AWESOME NEW BATTERY HACK BATMAN
posted by Mister_A at 10:27 AM on July 7, 2010


DU: Incrementalism is not an absolute evil.

Not yet it's not.


(just making the obvious joke; I totally agree with you.)


To be honest, this is just making me angry in that "seriously, why wasn't this my million dollar idea?" way.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:41 AM on July 7, 2010


Blazecock Pileon: "This battery totally makes up for all the companies Microsoft ripped off over the years."

Oh my fucking god. Are you fucking serious?
This is a minor little improvement, like the twist-off cap, that will just work its way into the market over the next X many years. Why the fuck does it matter where it came from?
posted by charred husk at 10:45 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you're making a system that's intended for daily use, and has a big power draw, you're going to want it to be rechargeable. Most battery packs on things like laptops, etc. contain a lot of additional hardware to regulate voltage, ensure the pack doesn't explode during charging, and so on.

I think we're coming at this from two separate angles. Those square, rechargeable batteries aren't alkaline and usually don't need be removed from a device for charging. Most cell phone, camera and laptop batteries can be charged simply by plugging in their device.

You originally said: "This is a pretty cute idea. It probably won't see widespread adoption, though, because it's not a big enough differentiator for a consumer

Perhaps. Even though disposable alkaline battery sales number in the billions in the US alone, it's perfectly possible that manufacturers won't spring for this.

...and commodity batteries are only used in very low-end applications, where an extra ten cents for a different contact technology eats half your margin."

There are plenty of devices on the market that require non-rechargeable cylindrical (alkaline) batteries and for which a ten cent bit of technology added to the battery compartment would not eat half of a manufacturer's margin.
posted by zarq at 11:10 AM on July 7, 2010


The problem is ubiquity.

Unless this is universally adopted, an end-user will be in the exact same predicament, looking at the battery compartment, trying to determine what the right way is to put the batteries.

The new dimension is now a user is left wondering if this is an 'old' device where orientation matters or one of those new things where it doesn't.

This problem, of course, is solved by clear labelling, but clear labelling can also tell a user which way to put the batteries in in the first place.
posted by mazola at 11:22 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, this means that I can now reverse the polarity?

Yes! This is going to solve every technical problem I have from now on!
posted by dinty_moore at 11:58 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


and I can do it all without a sonic screwdriver. . .
posted by dinty_moore at 12:01 PM on July 7, 2010


I love the optimism inherent in infomercials. Everyone is dead certain that, "There's got to be a better way!" It's just so utopian, so Roddenberry-esque. For every problem there is an ANSWER! Never ever settle for the tiniest hassle in life. For just 3 easy payments of 19.95 we will absolutely solve this one issue for you. Order now and we'll send you a second for free. Just pay separate shipping and handling.

Handling charges are especially cool. I keep waiting for my receipt from a retail store to include a line item for handling. Uhh yeah. I had to handle this in order to ring it up for you so that's an extra $4.95.
posted by Babblesort at 12:33 PM on July 7, 2010


> redesigned the receptacle, not the battery.

Thanks DU, and thanks smackfu for the link to the patent with pictures.
That helps make clear what this is about.
posted by hank at 12:42 PM on July 7, 2010


Neat idea, but making people license the tech means it won't proliferate as easily which sort of defeats the purpose of the tech.

"Why does it matter which way the batteries go into this remote? It doesn't matter on my other remote!"
posted by toekneebullard at 1:05 PM on July 7, 2010


Idiot-proofing cracks aside (I know I've managed to put batteries in backwards many times), there is also clear benefit here for people with hearing, vision or learning disabilities. Microsoft has recognized this and is offering a royalty-free license program to suppliers and manufacturers of accessibility devices.

I have a few devices that take one (only one) AA or AAA battery, and this would be a really nice feature. Especially for my travel alarm, which I'm often fiddling with in the dark. But I don't get why they're saying there's a clear benefit to people with hearing disabilities. Anyone understand that?

(And yeah, the licensing thing kind of sucks, but isn't surprising.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:44 PM on July 7, 2010


MS could cure AIDS via a new robotic blowjob therapy that also permanently intensifies your orgasms and boosts your IQ by 90 points, and people would still complain that the blowjob robot should finish with a clockwise rotation, not a counter-clockwise rotation, and should be open source.
posted by middleclasstool at 1:55 PM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


But I don't get why they're saying there's a clear benefit to people with hearing disabilities.

Probably because hearing aids and their batteries are very tiny; my elderly dad has a heck of a time replacing the battery in his hearing aid, which he has to do frequently because the aid doesn't have an off-switch. It's the perfect storm of tiny things requiring accurate orientation and positioning vs. age-stiffened fingers and failing eyesight.
posted by jamaro at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2010


Ah, I stand corrected. I had not seen the much clearer patent pictures linked by smackfu when I wrote my criticisms. I thought it required a minor redesign of the battery terminals. From the MS PDF it looked like they were putting both of the terminals at one end.

Still, I don't think every battery would work with this. Not every battery is insulated well enough at the positive end and there are some pretty significant differences between battery case and terminal designs. For example, some are sealed at the negative end, some are sealed at the positive end, some are sealed at both ends and the casing itself is not a contact.

Anyway, on review that terminal is actually pretty clever.
posted by loquacious at 3:34 PM on July 7, 2010


I'm the only one who wants this? Really? OK.
I mean, normally I have no problem with busting out the magnifying glass and flashlight to figure out which ways the batteries are supposed to fit into their little silos- but on my digital camera, one goes one way, one the other, ahd there is no indication at *all* on the thing, no little + or - signs... it *does* suck!

So I guess I'm already old and stupid and disabled or whatever, but I think it sounds like a great idea. It's microsoft, yeah, but.. um... their mice aren't so bad?
posted by hap_hazard at 3:55 PM on July 7, 2010


It's funny how hostile everyone is to this idea, on this site or other ones. Is it because it's Microsoft? Because internet people are getting older and more conservative?

Surely such older and conservative people would approve the thing, indeed, might grumble (if they owned Microsoft stock) that it is being given for free?

Side note - since it only works with CR123, AA, AAA, C or D size batteries, it's not much use for a lot of hearing aids.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:01 PM on July 7, 2010


Alan Wake could have used these well.
posted by nerhael at 4:02 PM on July 7, 2010


Probably because hearing aids and their batteries are very tiny; my elderly dad has a heck of a time replacing the battery in his hearing aid, which he has to do frequently because the aid doesn't have an off-switch. It's the perfect storm of tiny things requiring accurate orientation and positioning vs. age-stiffened fingers and failing eyesight.

I considered that (I grew up wearing aids), but those batteries don't really have a dimple that would be large enough for this to work. I think.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:04 PM on July 7, 2010


That's too bad it's not for button batteries, hearing aids would be the perfect application.
posted by jamaro at 6:54 PM on July 7, 2010


But wait, MS Battery 1.1 will optimize the contact location in a slightly different location so as to render obsolete the original configuration. Stay tuned...
posted by mygoditsbob at 7:18 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just gotta ask: who are all you people walking round with batteries in your pockets? What are they doing there?

I'm only 29, sure, but I've never walked around with a battery in my pocket. Phone, keys, wallet, change, maybe a shopping list, but batteries?

Are you all robots or something? I keep my batteries in the cupboard, next to the camera, and hidden under the cushions of the couch.
posted by smoke at 7:26 PM on July 7, 2010


It's funny how hostile everyone is to this idea, on this site or other ones. Is it because it's Microsoft? Because internet people are getting older and more conservative?

Tech discussion fora are always like that; they are the virtual equivalent of a cooler, where everyone gathers around and bitches about everything. Tech folks are usually dismissive of new ideas; because they've all been trained to solve only 'hard' problems where time spent on a problem has a direct correlation with benefits received, people often presume an idea is 'obvious' or frivolous if they can understand the innovation in 2 minutes or less. Some even might think that perhaps not enough work was done on research/ testing, even though they see no evidence to the contrary. You'll see variations of that response in this thread.

Now, while MS does indeed generate some additional kneejerk negativity, (not actual examples I read, but stuff like "M$!11!", "So it's like Clippy for batteries?") usually because people are still fighting the same Holy Wars they fought in the 90's, without fully realizing that the world has changed, it's important to note would even the ultimate non-MS, Apple, also has this "problem"; note how Slashdot famously dissed the iPod when it was first released.

The difference, though, is that Apple also generates this intense excitement in people with some interest in technology, but no patience in following trends; because they don't notice alternatives, they often think that all of what Apple does is innovative, even that _only_ Apple is innovative. Which is why they go around screaming about every move that Apple makes, and because we're subject to this onslaught, we don't often notice the grumbling that happens in the background.
posted by the cydonian at 8:32 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it because it's Microsoft? Because internet people are getting older and more conservative?

Is it because it assumes high manufacturing quality, close tolerances, and voluntary conformance to unenforced specifications on the part of disposable, $0.15 parts?

Don't get me wrong, it's a really clever idea. But I think that a product implementing it would find itself unable to use a lot of cheap batteries, and having to only buy expensive brand-name batteries would be more of a PITA, in most consumers' minds, than having to insert them correctly.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:43 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's great that someone managed to find some way to drag criticism of Apple into a discussion about Microsoft's batteries. It wouldn't be the same place without someone trashing Apple for no reason at all.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 PM on July 7, 2010


I just gotta ask: who are all you people walking round with batteries in your pockets? What are they doing there?

Around here, we carry three AAA batteries in a front pocket with change to bring good fortune. No, wait ... I mean to start crotch fires.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:00 AM on July 8, 2010


MS could cure AIDS via a new robotic blowjob therapy that also permanently intensifies your orgasms and boosts your IQ by 90 points, and people would still complain that the blowjob robot should finish with a clockwise rotation, not a counter-clockwise rotation, and should be open source.

Bill Gates is actually working on eliminating malaria and people do, in fact, find bizarre and specious reasons to be upset by that, or his efforts to improve education in poor countries, particularly women.

It's great that someone managed to find some way to drag criticism of Apple into a discussion about Microsoft's batteries. It wouldn't be the same place without someone trashing Apple for no reason at all.

Perhaps it has something to do with the sites most relentless unpaid Apple PR spokesperson showing up in a thread about Microsoft to... trash them for nothing at all to do with the topic of the post.
posted by rodgerd at 1:44 AM on July 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


This battery totally makes up for all the companies Microsoft ripped off over the years.posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:25 PM on July 7 [+] [!]

It's great that someone managed to find some way to drag criticism of Apple into a discussion about Microsoft's batteries. It wouldn't be the same place without someone trashing Apple for no reason at all.posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:22 AM on July 8 [+] [!]

You just joined a pile-on of MS-bashing here, and then complained about how unfair it was when someone did the same to Apple? Wow.
posted by zarq at 6:14 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a (non-Microsoft) mouse here that accepts batteries in both directions. I would guess that what's happened here is that someone patented the circuitry to implement such, and Microsoft's patent is a physical method so as to get around the other patent. If you look at the citations on the patent, you'll see a few other patents for solving the "batteries supply power regardless of orientation" problem. So Microsoft's innovation is definitely not in choosing to solve this problem. I tried to patent something once and discovered something similar: the ground was littered with multiple previous attempts to solve the problem, some of which were possibly quite similar to mine but obfuscated in patentese in a different way.
posted by breath at 7:17 AM on July 8, 2010


Add me to the list of people who don't really see what the point of this is. It doesn't even seem like an incremental upgrade, since it doesn't work with existing batteires or devices. So you need an entirely different connector in the devices.

And since you have to modify the device, why not just do polarity flipping in the device itself? It seems like you could easily make a 4-pin "polarity flipper" circuit element. I'm not an EE but it seems like you could do it with just 4 diodes.

So if you have to modify the device and you can't stack the battires the way most cheap electronics require, why not correct the polarity in the device itself? I actually think it would be cheaper, since the battery terminals always look really cheap to me, just a spring or a little tab.
Unless you're that frog.
Just FYI: The boiling frog thing isn't true. If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it won't jump out, because it will instantly die. Otoh, most frogs will actually jump out of a pot if it gets to hot.
posted by delmoi at 10:09 AM on July 8, 2010


delmoi: "Add me to the list of people who don't really see what the point of this is. It doesn't even seem like an incremental upgrade, since it doesn't work with existing batteires or devices. So you need an entirely different connector in the devices. "

Microsoft creates a way to have batteries inserted either direction into a device.
Microsoft sells licensing to companies who want to use this in their products.
These companies begin selling their products with this in them - some with fanfare, some without.
Years from now, most devices that could benefit from this will be using it without fanfare.

Why is this so hard for people to understand? It is a little tweak that we'll be taking for granted in a few years. If some other company had come up with it instead of Microsoft we probably wouldn't be hearing about it at all.
posted by charred husk at 11:12 AM on July 8, 2010


I just gotta ask: who are all you people walking round with batteries in your pockets?

Sports fans from Philadelphia?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:38 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


...since it doesn't work with existing batteires...

Yes, it does.

So if you have to modify the device and you can't stack the battires the way most cheap electronics require, why not correct the polarity in the device itself? I actually think it would be cheaper, since the battery terminals always look really cheap to me, just a spring or a little tab.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Microsoft is proposing a redesign of the battery terminals in the battery compartment of various devices to accommodate existing batteries.

If you're talking about having a wide range of companies create some sort of bridge rectifier circuit within the electronics of their devices, then yes, I expect that would be more expensive, no?
posted by zarq at 11:47 AM on July 8, 2010


You just joined a pile-on of MS-bashing here, and then complained about how unfair it was when someone did the same to Apple? Wow.

Really? Not only is it not allowed to criticize Microsoft in a thread about Microsoft, you don't think bringing up Apple is a derail in your own thread about Microsoft? :(
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:02 PM on July 8, 2010


Answering my own question... bridge rectifiers look pretty cheap.
posted by zarq at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2010


Really? Not only is it not allowed to criticize Microsoft in a thread about Microsoft...

Sure you can. Plenty of people did. That's to be expected around here when 'Micro$oft' is mentioned in a post. I'd personally prefer that the comments be less "Microsoft Sucks, AMIRITE?" and more valid criticisms of whether this invention is unique, needed, works, monopolistic or is convenient, but that's just me.

you don't think bringing up Apple is a derail in your own thread about Microsoft? :(

When Apple was brought up as a contrast in that comment, it was pretty much still on topic. He was discussing knee-jerk reactions to technology announcements by Microsoft and comparing them to Apple. I didn't see the comment as a derail, although you may disagree. As a result, your defensive comment felt ironic. Microsoft is fair game for criticisms, but hands-off Apple?
posted by zarq at 12:46 PM on July 8, 2010


If you're talking about having a wide range of companies create some sort of bridge rectifier circuit within the electronics of their devices, then yes, I expect that would be more expensive, no?
Well, as your link showed, you get them as cheap as 30¢ per thousand. It probably would have been expensive in the 70s or 80s or something. I bet.
When Apple was brought up as a contrast in that comment, it was pretty much still on topic. He was discussing knee-jerk reactions to technology announcements by Microsoft and comparing them to Apple.
The irony is he wasn't even actually criticizing Apple, but Apple fanboys who have the habit of attributing everything ever done to Apple.
posted by delmoi at 1:25 PM on July 8, 2010


It probably would have been expensive in the 70s or 80s or something. I bet.

Heh. The late 80's were probably the last time I looked up the price of diodes and bridge rectifiers. :D
posted by zarq at 1:29 PM on July 8, 2010


"Sometimes I turn a battery around on purpose, in devices that turn on on their own too easily, or things I rarely use, to save battery life. WHAT ABOUT MY NEEDS MICROSOFT?"

Ys, I do this too. Keeps batteries handy to the device4 with needing to worry about them accidently turning on.
posted by Mitheral at 8:14 AM on July 9, 2010


People above posted concerns about "oh no! what if it reverses accidentally and starts a fire?" Wouldn't the same thing happen if you manually reverse them?
posted by smackfu at 8:16 AM on July 9, 2010


Wouldn't the same thing happen if you manually reverse them?

Generally not. What's dangerous (in a two-battery device with 1.5V cells) is not reversing the polarity, but shorting the battery out. Usually if you reverse one battery, it just won't work.

Assuming you are stacking two 1.5V cells to produce 3V (typical):

[+ 1.5 -] [+ 1.5 -] = 3V over both

Reversing one battery, you have:

[+ 1.5 -] [- 1.5 +] = 0V over both

Typically the device just doesn't work when you do this. (In reality the voltage is probably not exactly zero, but it's much less than 3V so the device doesn't turn on if it uses solid-state circuits with some hard minimum.)

This is not a great arrangement because if the batteries aren't producing the same voltage you can basically force-charge one of them from the other, but it's generally not disastrous. In fact there are situations where you might do it intentionally to get both a positive and negative supply voltage. If you tap in between the two batteries, you can get +1.5, 0, -1.5V. I've personally done stuff like that with 9Vs to get a double-ended portable supply to run op-amps and it works just fine as long as you replace the batteries together.

What you don't want to do is short one or both batteries out, so that you're discharging it very quickly. Some battery chemistries are exothermic as they discharge, and could potentially overheat/bulge/burst/explode if shorted. (Lithium-thionyl chloride, used in non-rechargeable cells, can deliver quite a bit of current and get pretty hot.) Exactly how hazardous it would be would depend on the battery, i.e. the chemistry and whether it contains integrated overcurrent/overheat protection, but I think in general a short is more of a risk than a battery inserted backwards.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:38 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


atrazine: "the same way that software developers replaced "press any key" with "press space bar" even though any key will do."

Next time you see "press any key", go right ahead and press Shift. Now you know why we replaced it with "press space bar".
posted by brokkr at 5:15 AM on July 11, 2010


New vibration-powered batteries make charging easier than ever
posted by Artw at 1:04 PM on July 17, 2010


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