Could cell phone chargers soon be a thing of the past?

A story making the rounds on social media is saying just that, claiming that researchers have developed a cell phone that works without a battery.

We tracked down Vamsi Talla, one of the researchers mentioned in the story, to verify the project.

Talla, a research associate in the field of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Washington, has developed a method for placing calls from a battery-free device using a technique called “backscatter.”

“The key idea behind backscatter is that instead of generating your own signal for communication, which is extremely power-hungry and drains the battery, we leverage existing ambient RF signals,” Talla said. “Backscatter works by either reflecting or absorbing existing RF signals, like a mirror. (This method) consumes 1000-10000 times less power than generating signals.”

The lab Talla works at has been working on backscatter technology for about six years, Talla estimates, and has been trying to apply it to cell phones for the past year.

Currently, the phone functions a bit like a walkie-talkie -- users press a button to listen and again to speak. There are also some limitations on the range of the device as the call quality hinges on the proximity of the phone to its base station.

In addition to improving the call quality, Talla has plans to add a few familiar smartphone features to the device.

“Our group is working towards adding an E-Ink display and a camera,” Talla said.

Talla, along with Joshua Smith, who runs the lab where Talla works, have launched the startup Jeeva Wireless to market the low-energy technology.

So how much will a battery-free cell phone cost you?

“The technology should be extremely affordable since it is going to be extremely inexpensive -- albeit with limited capabilities -- compared to a regular cellphone,” Talla said.

Although, as Talla points out, the trade off for limited capabilities could be life-saving.

“Imagine having a zero power mode on your phone so that even if the battery dies, you can at least make a 911 call in case of emergencies.”

VERIFY: Sources

Vamsi Talla, a research associate in the field of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Washington

VERIFY: Resources

READ: Jeeva Wireless website

READ: The team’s research paper on “ambient backscatter,” the technique used to power the phone