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Now a company called Widetronix has developed new betavoltaics that can run for up to 25 years and perhaps power tiny devices in everything from military hardware to smartphone sensors.
Nuclear in this case does not refer to fission power and splitting atoms, but instead means the natural decay of electrons given off by radioactive sources. A semiconductor such as silicon harvests the decaying electrons in betavoltaics — similar to how semiconductors in photovoltaic cells collect photons from solar energy.
Such tiny power sources could enable a growing swarm of tiny devices in civilian life. Greene said that his company is looking toward "ultra low power implantable devices" that might help physicians monitor the health of patients.
The U.S. military also likes what it sees in betavoltaics. Lockheed Martin has already begun testing some of the Widetronix batteries for use in anti-tamper military devices, which prevent enemies from tinkering with missiles or other sensitive military hardware. More powerful betavoltaics could someday power devices that help U.S. commanders keep track of their warfighters, aircraft, vehicles and drones.