The original Game Boy from 1989 was an iconic portable console, but as anyone who owned it will tell you, it required a steady stream of batteries to keep going. Now, a team of researchers at Northwestern University and Delft University of Technology has developed a new method for the classic console, replacing its set of four AA batteries with a set of five rows of solar panels and buttons that collect energy while playing.
The Engage, as the team called it their device, is theoretically able to use it to play any game made for the original Game Boy, and it also has a slot on the back if you want an original game cartridge. It’s the size of a paperback book, but the size CNET Reports, it only weighs half the weight of the original mobile device.
It also comes with a bunch of restrictions. There is no sound for one thing, and the LCD is extremely small. Oh, and it also tends to shut down every 10 seconds or so. It’s hard to have enough power to stay on continuously, so the Engage is designed to be able to shutdown and come to life with the push of a button without losing any progress (surprisingly difficult feat). The amount of time it can stay is said to vary with the game. Tetris It can live a little longer than Super Mario Land, For example. And it seems Pokemon Blue, With greater memory requirements and fewer button presses to save power, it’s kind of a nightmare.
Suffice it to say, this wouldn’t be a great way to revisit the classic Game Boy game library, but that’s not really the point. Instead, Engage is intended as a research project: a way to explore how to make future gaming consoles more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Not only do controllers consume a lot of energy, but modern batteries use lithium, a rare earth mineral that has significant environmental costs for mining.
“We kind of need crazy, radical approaches,” says Josiah Hester, one of the project’s founders. CNETOne of the radical things we can do is completely rethink how we build these devices by scraping out batteries.
Engage is scheduled to be unveiled on September 12 at UbiComp’s virtual conference, after which its design, hardware, and firmware will be open source on GitHub. You can read all about its development in its publishing feature CNET.