Robot Rabbi — Since the early 1990s, machines have relied on rechargeable lithium ion batteries for power. However these storage cells (inside most cell phones, and now Spot Mini) are dangerously combustable, easily degradable, and very expensive. One of the best examples of the instability of lithium ion is the Samsung Note 7 handset recall, after exploding units caused havoc to consumers. The design flaw ended up costing Samsung $6.2 billion, and even prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue an advisement after panic flyers saw cellphones overheat. Exploding batteries are not limited to Samsung, but across the entire lithium ion appliance ecosystem, including e-cigarettes, hoverboards, toys, and electric vehicles.
While Marc Raibert was showing off his latest mechanical creation, across the river in Woburn, Mass Ionic Materials was opening its new 30,000 square-foot lab. The hot startup grabbed headlines months ago with a $65 million venture capital investment from the new Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Total Energy Ventures, and Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy. However, the real news story is their revolutionary solid-state lithium battery technology that is cheaper, less flammable and longer lasting. The technology came out of the research of Dr. Michael Zimmerman of Tufts University that was originally aimed at improving the performance of existing lithium ion batteries. Unlike lithium ion batteries that contain flammable liquid electrolyte, Zimmerman’s invention deploys a solid polymer electrolyte preventing short-circuiting. Ionic’s plastic electrolyte not only prevents explosive gases from escaping, but enables the composition battery to be constructed with higher energy density materials, such as pure lithium anodes.
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