Japanese heavyweights are throwing their car keys into a bowl and pairing off to come up with a way to create and commercialise sensors and switches that generate their own power.
The idea is that the parts will make external power sources redundant - because they can convert energy from body heat, light and vibrations straight into electricity. Self powered electronics have already sporadically been used in technology like wall-mount remote control units for air conditioners, says Nikkei, but existing parts are bulky and cost a couple thousand yen a piece. 3,000 yen is about $35 - which means they're not the best bet, financially, yet.
An argument is that a single fancy car has 150 sensors in it. If all these were generating their own power and linked together, they would make the car more lightweight, reduce manufacturing cost, be more eco-friendly and together would be able to generate enough power to last over a kilometre.
Other bits and pieces where the self powered sensors could be used are boilers and, er, pacemakers. If something requires a battery that's difficult to change, the sensors would be ideal as they'll keep the pacemaker ticking instead of the user dropping dead because he's not a surgeon or there aren't enough AAAs in the house.
The market for self powered parts has been touted to reach $4.4 billion by 2020, making it big big business. All companies involved are under an umbrella consortium built by an NTT lab. Toyota and Panasonic are just some of the 20 companies involved.