What Are Smart Batteries and How Do They Work?

It seems like every item of new technology today is “smart.” Typically, we consider smart technology as that with the ability to automatically carry out functions that are determined by environmental factors and which the technology can sense. For example, a “smart” vending machine can send an alert to the relevant authorities whenever its inventory is depleted. The smart technology within that vending machine has been able to sense an environmental factor (the depletion of stock) and in turn carry out a function in response (the alert). Smart technology usually implies some sort of internet functionality as well. If the internet is thought of, most basically, as the interconnection of people, objects, and the transfer of information, then it follows that smart technologies can retrieve data from this source too (rather than its own sensors) and act accordingly. Thus, we have smartphones, GPS systems, and so on. 

But what is a smart battery? Well, it is a little different from most of the devices we typically think of as smart. They have also been around a little longer, although they have seen extensive innovation and development since they were first introduced. The smart batteries of today include products like USB rechargeable batteries from companies like Pale Blue Earth out of Utah, the kind of USB rechargeable batteries with the additional functionality of being able to monitor the voltage and current passing through it. This allows such batteries to communicate with the battery charger, request charging or the cessation of charging as well as indicate the power left in the battery and what that translates to in terms of hours of use left. 

How They Work

Most broadly defined, a smart battery is any battery with a built-in battery management system (BMS). While an ordinary battery is composed of an anode, cathode, and an electrolyte through which electrical charge is transferred, a smart battery contains additional terminals that connect to the BMS. 

It is the BMS that constitutes the smart part of the battery and conforms to the traditional idea of a smart device by being able to measure and collect data and use that to indicate the state the battery is currently in. All smart batteries are, almost by definition, also rechargeable batteries. This is simply because there would be little useful information to report if the battery could not be recharged. As mentioned, this technology has been around for years, but it has been refined to indicate far more than simply when to charge.

Modern Smart Batteries 

Modern smart batteries still work according to the same basic principle, but they contain a more complex BMS and can initiate automatic responses beyond simply letting the user know if charging is required. 

Modern smart batteries will nearly always be lithium-ion batteries. Such batteries provide a much higher power density and a low self-discharge rate, meaning they hold more power and deplete it slower. There are several ways to charge a modern Li-ion battery that can extend its overall life, this includes not overcharging the battery (i.e., to 100%) as well as recharging it on shorter charge cycles, which means recharging it before it is entirely depleted. With a more complex BMS system, and by measuring these parameters, a modern smart battery can let the user know the optimal time and duration for charging – not only when it needs to be charged. 

Therein lies the distinction, and with smart technology proliferating across all areas of life and only becoming more advanced, there is no telling what complex charging functions smart batteries could handle in the future.

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