MakeCode’s Battery-Free Technology Empowers Children to Code Sustainably


It is the first computer coding platform that lets kids build and program battery-free, energy-harvesting devices that don’t need to be charged.

It’s called battery-free It is based on Microsoft MakeCode, which is a popular free online platform that teaches people how to code. MakeCode is a good way to learn how to code. The visual platform makes it easy to write code. To make games like Tetris, users just drag and drop blocks of pre-made code. They can also make devices that can count steps or play music.

Battery-free MakeCode has an extension that automatically and invisibly turns MakeCode into a version that can be used to write programs for electronic devices that get their energy from things like vibrations, movement, radio frequency transmissions, and the sun.

It’s all part of a pilot project funded by the National Science Foundation. Teachers at Phala Elementary School in Hawaii are starting to use Battery-free MakeCode in their place-based, sustainability-focused STEM lessons.

A paper about the new platform was published today by the Association for Computing Machinery. It’s called the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable, and Ubiquitous Technologies. The platform doesn’t need any special hardware and can be found for free online.

Coding is becoming more and more common in schools across the country, and students are learning how to code earlier and earlier. Northwestern’s Josiah Hester, the study’s senior author, said that. During their time learning to code, our goal is that they will also learn about energy and sustainability.” With Battery-free MakeCode, we want to make it easier for teachers to teach a new generation of programmers who know how to use computers and write programs that are good for the environment.

Christopher Kraemer, a Ph.D. candidate in Hester’s lab, said that in the next five to 10 years, more battery-free devices are likely to be made by the tech world. So, there is a need to improve the way people learn about battery-free programming.

At Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, Hester teaches electrical and computer engineering. He is also the Allen K. Breed Junior Professor of Design. Kraemer is the first author of the paper.

Avoiding a fire in the dumpster

When Hester thinks about his Native Hawaiian heritage, he comes up with battery-free gadgets that make computing more environmentally friendly. In the fall of 2020, Hester and his collaborators will show off the first battery-free Gameboy, which gets energy from the sun and the user’s kinetic energy from pressing buttons. This is the first batteryless Gameboy. A new coding platform called BFree was released by the same team in the fall of 2021. It makes it easier for people who are interested in making their own battery-free electronic devices to do so, even if they’re not very good at programming.

People are asking how to make their devices last longer on the internet, Hester said at the time. “They’re asking the wrong question, and I don’t know why.” When they think about the battery, we don’t want them to think about more environmentally friendly ways to make electricity.”

lithium-ion batteries are very bad for the environment. They are very easy to use, but they have a big impact. Not only does lithium mining use a lot of energy and water, but lithium is also flammable and toxic and can start a fire in recycling plants. In the next 50 years, a lot of big tech companies say that we could have trillions of more Internet-of-Things devices. That will lead to a lot of used and eventually thrown away batteries. Hester wants to keep these batteries from being used, so they won’t end up in a dumpster fire.

Learn how to code, but make it battery-free by using a rechargeable battery

It has been very hard to write programs for battery-free devices until now. Only people who are very good at programming and have a lot of experience with battery-free devices can write programs for them. The main problem with energy harvesting is that it can be hard to predict. This means that programs on battery-free devices might not work every time the sun hides behind a cloud or the user takes a break from pressing buttons.

Programming these devices is hard because you have to think about how to protect them from power outages safely, quickly, and correctly, and then how to get them back to where they were when the power came back on, Hester said.

The good news is that kids who are learning to code battery-free devices won’t have to think about this. Battery-free MakeCode does all of the work for them, so they can spend their time designing devices and looking into different sources of energy instead. If students don’t want to write complicated code to deal with power outages, they can think more about how energy is harvested and used, which are important things for future programmers to know.

Many games use more energy when they’re not in use than a refrigerator, Hester told the story You should not be like that when you become a programmer in the future.

The new extension changes the original MakeCode program so that it can withstand problems so that the program’s state doesn’t change even when there isn’t enough power.

“Battery-free For this, Kraemer said, MakeCode only needs to have a memory chip and a solar panel or another source of energy to do the job. It’s up to the programmer to be as creative as possible because these steps aren’t seen by them.

To make smart devices that are good for the environment, all you need is an internet connection and less than $40 worth of electronics, which can be found on AdaFruit or other websites for makers and students. This makes sustainable computing practices more accessible, which makes them more likely to be used by more people.

‘Hawaiian ethos of sustainability’ coding reinvented

When Hester talked to teachers at a bilingual (Hawaiian and English) public school, he came up with the idea for the project. Most of the students at the school were Indigenous (Native Hawaiian). Even though students already use MakeCode in programming and STEM classes, the idea of using batteries to power the devices seemed to go against the idea of being environmentally friendly.

If you live in Hawaii, you will have to learn how to code by 2025. Students at Phala Elementary School will learn how to program smart, environmentally-friendly devices with Battery-Free MakeCode, and Hester and his team hope that they will also ask important questions about sustainability as they go. The school has already started using green technologies, like 3D printing with materials that aren’t made of plastic.

“It fits in well with Native Hawaiian curricula that are culturally relevant,” Hester said. When we live in my culture, we always think about how we can do good while having the least impact on the world. When we leave, we want to leave the environment better than we found it. We also want to take care of the ina (the land). My personal goal is to look for ways to change or rethink the computer curriculum in a way that fits with the Hawaiian, Indigenous way of thinking about sustainability.