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A wind turbine mounted on metal is dwarfed by a harvester ant. It may one day keep cell phones powered.

Tiny Turbine

In the world of tomorrow, charging your cell phone could be a breeze.

This story appears in the July 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Last year electrical engineers J-C Chiao and Smitha Rao, and their University of Texas at Arlington team, developed a prototype of a wind turbine—half the size of a grain of rice—that could be integrated into future electronics. Made from durable metal alloy and connected by tiny wires, it would deliver a tiny burst of energy to compact devices—think smartphones, not refrigerators—that need quick juice.

It’s the latest mobile-technology idea aimed at making power outlets obsolete. Solar backpacks that charge handheld devices already exist. Next up? A new generation of wearable energy sources could include solar-powered fabrics and wind-powered hats that restoke a phone battery. —Daniel Stone

Go in the studio with photographer Adam Voorhes as he describes how he created this photo illustration.