This Game Boy Is Powered by the Sun and Your Own Fingertips

Now you're really Playing With Power

Researchers from Northwestern University and the Delft University of Technology recently showed off their creation of a solar-powered Game Boy that also runs on button presses.

It’s called the ENGAGE, or the Energy Aware Gaming platform (not to be confused with N-Gage, the short-lived Nokia smartphone/handheld). As you can see, this “sustainable gaming system” has tiny solar panels around its screen, but the real kicker is that energy is also “harvested” from the user’s own actions.

“It’s the first battery-free interactive device that harvests energy from user actions,” according to research co-lead Josiah Hester of Northwestern University, “When you press a button, the device converts that energy into something that powers your gaming.”

While the device looks like an OG Game Boy, and can even play original Game Boy cartridges, it was built from the ground up. It’s not perfect, though: Under ideal conditions, there’s at least a “less than one second” interruption in gameplay every 10 seconds.

While they say this is fine for turn-based games or perhaps even Tetris, I imagine Super Mario Land might get a bit frustrating.

“As the device switches between power sources, it does experience short losses in power. To ensure an acceptable duration of gameplay between power failures, the researchers designed the system hardware and software from the ground up to be energy aware as well as very energy efficient. They also developed a new technique for storing the system state in non-volatile memory, minimizing overhead and allowing quick restoration when power returns. This eliminates the need to press “save” as seen in traditional platforms, as the player can now continue gameplay from the exact point of the device fully losing power—even if Mario is in mid-jump.”

For reference, the original Game Boy ran on four AA batteries and lasted something around 15 hours.

This isn’t the first solar-powered Game Boy out there. An old instructables, for example, shows off the creation of a solar-powered Game Boy Color. However, that one still required the use of rechargeable batteries, while the researchers here were able to avoid batteries altogether.

As Josiah Hester alludes to in the above video, their work is ultimately paving the way toward sustainable devices that can last nearly forever even in rough environments.

Now, if they could make a self-powered Game Gear, that would be impressive. That thing ate batteries.


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.