Battery Equivalents and Replacements

Energizer: First Battery With an On-Battery Tester?

The historical development of batteries before the introduction of the on-battery tester saw a variety of innovations aimed at enhancing battery life, storage capacity, and reliability. From the rudimentary voltaic cells of the 1800s to the more refined alkaline batteries developed in the mid-20th century, each advancement brought with it a deeper understanding of electrochemical energy storage.

However, despite these improvements, consumers often found it challenging to gauge the remaining life and health of their batteries, leading to either premature disposal or unexpected power failures.

Published: May 7, 2024.

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The Genesis of the On-Battery Tester

The development of the "on-battery tester" marked a significant breakthrough in consumer battery technology. It was in the early 1990s when Energizer introduced a built-in battery testing feature, which was a revolutionary concept at that time. This innovation allowed users to check the power level of their batteries conveniently, enhancing user experience and efficiency.

Key individuals behind this technological advancement included a team of Energizer engineers and researchers who dedicated years to solving the common consumer issue of unpredictable battery life.

The project was driven by the goal of integrating a simple, user-friendly testing mechanism directly onto the battery itself, without compromising its performance or lifespan.

How the On-Battery Tester Works

The on-battery tester functions based on a simple yet ingenious principle. The tester includes a small strip on the side of the battery that reacts chemically when a small amount of pressure is applied.

This reaction causes the strip to change color according to the amount of charge remaining in the battery. The more charge left, the more pronounced the color change.

To help consumers better understand this feature, diagrams and illustrations often accompany the battery packaging. These visuals typically show the battery with the tester strip, indicating where to press and how to interpret the color results.

This enables even the least technically inclined users to effectively gauge their battery's charge level.

Additional Note: Patent Issues

The patent issue involving Kodak, along with inventors Burroughs and O’Kain, centers on the development and subsequent legal disputes over the technology behind the on-battery tester.

Inventors Lynn Burroughs and Richard O’Kain were key figures in the creation of the battery power tester, which was an innovative feature that allowed users to check the remaining charge in a battery by pressing a designated area on the battery itself.

The conflict arose when Kodak, a major player in the electronics and photography industry, which also ventured into battery production, began incorporating a similar battery-testing technology in their products. The similarity between Kodak’s battery tester and the patented technology developed by Burroughs and O’Kain led to allegations of patent infringement.

The core of the dispute was based on the infringement of specific patents held by Burroughs and O’Kain that detailed the mechanics and design of the integrated battery tester. These patents were crucial in protecting the unique technological advancement that they had introduced to the market. The legal battle that ensued focused on determining whether Kodak's use of a similar technology violated the patents held by the two inventors.

This case highlighted the complexities of patent law in the realm of technology and innovation, particularly in competitive industries where small advancements can hold significant market value. The resolution of such disputes often involves detailed examinations of the patent claims, the specifics of the technology involved, and the precedents set by earlier patents and innovations.

Impact of the On-Battery Tester on Consumer Experience

The introduction of the on-battery tester by Energizer significantly enhanced the consumer experience by providing a reliable and easy-to-use method to gauge battery life.

This innovation changed the way people use and understand batteries by offering a visual and immediate indication of remaining battery power. It particularly benefited devices where power levels are crucial, such as in digital cameras and portable medical equipment.

Market Response and Industry Influence

The market response to Energizer's batteries with built-in testers was overwhelmingly positive, leading to increased sales and a strengthened brand reputation. Consumers appreciated the added value and convenience, which in many cases justified a slightly higher price point compared to standard batteries.

Industry Response

Following Energizer’s innovation, other battery manufacturers began exploring similar technologies to incorporate into their own products. Companies like Duracell and Rayovac developed their variations of battery testers, leading to a range of products with integrated power level indicators.

The innovation spurred further research and development within the industry, focusing on enhancing the accuracy and durability of the power testing features.

Challenges and Limitations

Despite its success, the development and implementation of the on-battery tester were not without challenges.

Development Challenges

  • Technical Complexities: Integrating a power tester into the limited space of a battery casing presented significant engineering challenges. The team needed to ensure that the addition of the tester did not compromise the battery's performance or its physical integrity.
  • Cost Considerations: The additional components required for the on-battery tester increased production costs, which had to be balanced with consumer price sensitivity and market competition.

Limitations of the Technology

  • Accuracy Issues: Initially, some users reported discrepancies in the accuracy of the power readings, especially as the battery neared depletion.
  • Environmental Factors: The chemical-based testers could be affected by extreme temperatures, leading to less reliable readings under certain environmental conditions.

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Areas for Improvement

Future developments could focus on enhancing the accuracy and reliability of the tester across a wider range of conditions. Additionally, integrating digital or more advanced electronic testers that provide more precise readings could address current limitations.

Energizer and other companies in the battery industry can improve and evolve the technology of on-battery testers by continually addressing these challenges and limitations, further enhancing consumer convenience and confidence in portable power sources.

Current Status of "Squeeze" Disposable On-Battery Testers

The use of on-battery testers, commonly known as "battery test strips" or "power check" features, has become less common, particularly in very small batteries like AAA or AA sizes.

These features were more popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. Companies like Energizer and Duracell included them in some of their battery models to allow consumers to gauge the remaining charge by pressing on the ends of the battery.

However, advancements in battery technology and changes in consumer electronics have reduced the demand for these features.

Devices now often have their own battery life indicators, and improvements in battery technology have made power management more efficient.

Additionally, the focus has shifted towards sustainability and reducing waste, leading to more interest in rechargeable batteries, which do not typically include such test features.

That said, for specific uses or in professional settings, there may still be specialized batteries with integrated testers or external devices designed to test battery charge levels.

Nonetheless, "power check" on-battery testers still can be found even in small AA and AAA batteries.

Lead-acid and Lithium Starting, Dual-Purpose, and Deep Cycle Batteries

Unlike small batteries intended for consumer electronics, larger 12V+ lead-acid and lithium batteries used in automotive, marine, light industry, RV, motorcycle, etc. batteries very often come with an onboard battery tester in the form of a digital voltmeter/tester combined with a small LED/LCD display.

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Unlike battery testers built in small batteries that operate due to the pressure applied to the battery ends, battery testers with digital voltmeters provide much more accurate information about the battery voltage and remaining battery capacity.

Also, some lithium batteries are WiFi or Bluetooth-enabled units, allowing the users to monitor and manage the batteries using smartphone Apps, but that is another story...