It's a prime example of Murphy's Law in action: mobile phones will always run out of battery at the exact moment when they are most needed. We have all experienced it. For hours your fully functional mobile telephone slumbers peacefully, within reach of a socket, without uttering a sound. Yet no sooner do you set off from home than it begins to emit the helpless cheep that tells you it needs to be charged - usually at the precise moment that that all-important call is coming through.
An Estonian inventor's radical innovation could soon make this a thing of the past. The invention involves a measurement method which promises a new approach to diagnosing the state of charge of a battery. As a result, the performance and durability of batteries in mobile telephones, medical equipment and even satellites could be significantly improved, along with the accuracy of the power level display.
The mobile telephone market alone is huge. At the end of 2010, there were approximately 650 million registered mobile phones for the EU's 500 million citizens. Statistically speaking, that's an average of more than one each for all ages, from new-born babies to pensioners. Germany boasts the highest number of mobile telephone contracts in the EU, with around 111 million recorded in December 2010. Italy is in second place with 87 million, followed by Great Britain with 81 million, France with 62 million and Spain with 57 million.
Mart Min, Professor at Tallinn University of Technology and the inventor in question, first applied for a patent in the field of electrical impedance in 1999, having made an interesting discovery during his research into "smarter" pacemakers. Further successful patent applications followed in 2000 and 2004. This year he has been nominated for the European Inventor Award in the Research category, to be presented in Budapest on 19 May. In the words of EPO President Benoît Battistelli: "With their talent for innovation, Europe's inventors benefit society as a whole."
Working in his specialist field, Min had originally hoped to develop an improved pacemaker which would measure the physical activity of the patient and control the pacing rate accordingly, i.e. by increasing the rate of beats it stimulates when the patient is exerting himself, but decreasing the rate when the patient is resting. With this in mind, he set to work on a new method of measuring electrical bioimpedance in the heart and lungs, using the production of simultaneous and multifrequency signals as well as new methods of analysing the data obtained. In doing so, he made a far-reaching discovery.
"We discovered a new method for measuring impedance in a wide frequency range and within a short space of time. It has a lot of advantages compared with old methods, because we can get much more information in a shorter space of time", explains Min. This new measurement method can also be applied to other materials to ascertain their composition or condition accurately. Along with its application in rate-adaptive pacemakers and the accurate recognition of the charge status of batteries, this new measurement method can also be applied, for example, to the evaluation of organ vitality prior to transplantation, as well as to monitoring their post-surgery efficacy. "And I'm pretty sure that we can also use it to discover disorders in the function of new organs very early on," adds the inventor.
The application of Min's invention to currency detectors will contribute considerably to making cash transactions in the eurozone safer. Moreover, the suitability of his method for use in online monitoring devices for locating changes in turbine rotor blade structures is currently being examined as part of EUREKA's Eurostars programme. It is this wide-ranging applicability of Min's invention that marks it out as such a radical innovation.