Batteries and the Popcorn Effect

23 December 2019

In what order do popcorn kernels pop? Is it very structured – one kernel pops and then the one immediately next to it and so forth?

The popcorn that I’ve seen pops quite randomly. One here. One there. Then a couple in another place. Seemingly in completely random placement. Click here to see a slow-motion video.

Now consider a large venue like an airport, a high-rise office building or a hospital that has thousands of battery-operated devices. For instance, many bathrooms in such locations use batteries to power faucets, soap dispensers, and flush valves. In what order do the batteries in such a venue run out? For instance, if we consider a 30-story office building, do batteries run out only on the first floor, and then a week later only on the second floor and a week later only on the third floor? Of course not. Like popcorn, they run out everywhere at seemingly random times.

Thus, the maintenance team is continuously reacting to low-battery and out-of-battery alerts. They play “battery whack-a-mole”.

One solution is to eliminate batteries completely, thus eliminating the need to replace them. One could do so by wiring all the devices, though this might involve lots of expensive labor, and substantial construction effort if bathroom walls need to be ripped open and re-tiled. Using wireless power might be another excellent and cost-effective option to solve the issue and eliminate these never-ending maintenance calls for battery replacements.

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