Apple May Use Electrical Debonding For Battery Replacement

As a result of the European Union’s push for greater repairability of consumer devices like smartphones, Apple sees itself forced to make the batteries in the iPhone user-replaceable by 2027. Reportedly, this has led Apple to look at using electroadhesion rather than conventional adhesives which require either heat, isopropyl alcohol, violence, or all of the above to release. Although details are scarce, it seems that the general idea would be that the battery is wrapped in metal, which, together with the inside of the metal case, would allow for the creation of a cationic/anionic pair capable of permanent adhesion with the application of a low-voltage DC current.

This is not an entirely wild idea. Tesa has already commercialized it in the electrical debonding form of its Debonding on Demand product. This uses a tape that’s applied to one side of the (metal) surfaces, with a 5 bar pressure being applied for 5 seconds. Afterwards, the two parts can be released again without residue as shown in the above image. This involves applying a 12V DC voltage for 60 seconds, with the two parts afterward removable without force.

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Using Electroadhesion To Reversibly Adhere Metals And Graphite To Hydrogels And Tissues

The usual way to get biological tissues and materials like gels and metals to stick together is using sutures, adhesives or both. Although this generally works, it’s far from ideal, with adhesives forming a barrier layer between tissues and the hard or impossible to undo nature of these methods. A viable alternative might be electroadhesion using cation and anion pairs, which uses low-voltage DC to firmly attach the two sides, with polarity reversal loosening the connection with no permanent effects. This is what a group of researchers have been investigating for a few years now, with the most recent paper on the topic called Reversibly Sticking Metals and Graphite to Hydrogels and Tissues by [Wenhao Xu] and colleagues published this year in ACS Central Science.

This follows on the 2021 study published in Nature Communications by [Leah K. Borden] and colleagues titled Reversible electroadhesion of hydrogels to animal tissues for suture-less repair of cuts or tears. In this study a cationic hydrogel (quaternized dimethyl aminoethyl methacrylate, QDM) was reversibly bonded to bovine aorta and other tissues, with said tissues functioning as the anionic element. Despite demonstrated functionality, the exact mechanism which made the application of 3-10 VDC (80 – 125 mA) for under a minute (10+ seconds) cause both sides to bond so tightly, and reversibly, is still unknown. This is where the recent study provides a mechanism and expands the applications.

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The (Robot) Body Electric

If you deal with electronics, you probably think of static electricity as a bad thing. It blows up MOSFETs and ICs and we take a lot of pains to prevent that kind of damage. But a start-up company called Grabit is using static electricity as a way to allow robots to manipulate the real world. In particular, Nike is using these robots to build shoes. You can see a demo video, below.

Traditional robots use human-like hands or claw-like grippers to mimic how humans handle material. But Grabit has multiple patents on electroadhesion. The original focus was wall-climbing robots, but the real pay off has been in manufacturing robots since the electrostatic robots can do things that mechanical hands are a long way from duplicating.

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