Microsoft Rescues You From The Tyranny Of Battery Insertion

If you’ve ever spent hours with a new gadget, inserting and removing batteries until you finally get it just right, you may appreciate Microsoft’s latest invention. Instaload is a technology designed for battery compartments that includes both positive and negative contacts at both ends. Yes, we know that sounds like a recipe for a world-ending cataclysm, but somehow Microsoft manages to make to make it work with any pyrotechnics.

The idea behind Instaload is so basic, it’s a wonder it hasn’t been done before. Since the positive and negative terminals are in slightly different positions, once a battery is inserted, it’s automatically lined up with the correct terminals on both ends. Circuits connected to the contacts make sure that you haven’t wedged the battery into the compartment in some unholy manner, and the juice flows on. Or, in Microsoft’s typically geeky way of presenting things:

InstaLoadâ„¢ is a mechanical battery contact design that does not require special electronics or circuitry. The InstaLoadâ„¢ battery configuration includes a set of positive and negative contacts at both ends, instead of a single positive contact at one end and a single negative contact at the other end. …

The core of the InstaLoadâ„¢ technology is the individual battery contacts assembly. The relationship between the battery terminals and the InstaLoad battery contacts is shown in the figure below. At one end of the battery, the battery interfaces with either the positive contacts (light gray) or the negative contacts (black). The battery interfaces with the opposite contact at its other end. When coupled with PCB traces, proper power polarity is automatically delivered to the device.

Assuming this thing really works, the main question is, what the heck is Microsoft doing designing a battery holder? The answer: They’re not. The Instaload is part of Microsoft’s IP Licensing division, through which the company hopes to license patents and designs to other companies, which will make the actual products. So far, Duracell and a handful of other companies have licensed Instaload. Others are presumably studying the patent right now to see how they can make similar products without paying Microsoft.

InstaLoadâ„¢ Battery Installation Technology Overview [Microsoft]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Randell says:

    Wow, I am so glad this came along. All these years of battery insertion and those countless hours I spent not knowing how to do it. This is one of those devices in search of a problem that anybody beyond a 5th grade education really does not have. But its cool that products now have a reason to charge an extra few bucks for something that was never needed.

    • WayneB says:

      How’s your eyesight? Is it perfect? Do you think it will never get worse? Do you think you will always be able to clearly see the hieroglyphic battery insertion diagram inscribed in the molded plastic inside the battery compartment?

      The article should have mentioned that Microsoft is offering royalty-free licensing to use this in devices intended for people with disabilities. It won’t add to the price of devices that need it the most.

      • Randell says:

        Well if your device does not work, those two extra seconds to turn them around must be a killer on your time. Royalty free for those who have disabilities, while the rest of the world pays because you are too lazy, stupid, or ill-equipped to figure out battery installation. By the way, they devised these things for people with poor eyesight. They have these frames and they put pieces of glass or plastic in them. They magnify items so it helps to see again. They are really new to the world.

        • rav3 says:

          unless you are blind and decided you are not a cripple, except when it comes to inserting batteries. I really hope you keep your eagle eyesight till you are 80 because inventions like these are meant to make our lives easier, its not a personal affront to you, and in the worst case are inconsequential, but maybe just maybe they will help someone

        • redbess says:

          Wow, you must have really been in a tizzy then when the ADA passed and buildings had to be made handicapped-accessible. All those tax dollars going towards those too “ill-equipped” to just walk up a flight of stairs…

          How is this harming you, exactly?

        • WayneB says:

          When you get old and senile and your offspring put you in a nursing home and leave you there to die, I hope you stick to your principles and the remote control for your TV does not have this invention.

        • LINIStittles says:

          I think the real problem here is that you don’t understand economics. Let’s start by ignoring the fact that something like this would probably add negligible costs to products. If people did see this feature as adding little to no value to products, companies would enter the market and offer comparable products with traditional battery compartments, thereby saving consumers “an extra few bucks” and capturing the entire market of cost-conscious-elite-battery-inserting-consumers.

          I’d bet you’re always quick to offer your expert commentary on how to fix the economy as well.

  2. TheUncleBob says:

    You know, this idea has been getting a lot of grief around the internet.
    As someone who works in retail, I’m happy for it.

    Do you know how often someone brings in a device (remote control, digital camera, child’s toy, etc.) that “doesn’t work” – then you check the batteries and they’re in backwards?

    Yes, this is something I deal with quite often. So yay for Microsoft for making the world a better place.

    • Coles_Law says:

      Agreed. I’m not in retail, but I’m the family-appointed tech support. Putting batteries in backwards is the portable item equivalent of “Is it plugged in?”

    • christador says:

      Totally agree–I am a tech that does outside work–here is a once-a-month call: My wireless mouse quit working. Me: Did you change the batteries? Yes and it still doesn’t work Me: Are you sure they’re in right? Yes I even had someone else check Me: OK I’ll be right over

      After a 20 minute drive upon arrival I find the batteries were in fact NOT inserted properly. There are enough people out there that need this extra little bit of help that I think it will be beneficial–it certainly can’t hurt. The question is–how will we put the batteries in ourselves now??

    • ScarletsWalk says:

      I don’t get the hate for this.

      Yeah, putting most batteries in most objects in most things goes fine, but not all batteries in all objects all the time.

      If you have bad vision, eye glasses and magnifying glasses are a tool. So why not have the tool already built in to what you’re using? I don’t think this will cost a lot to license and use and if it does, manufacturers aren’t likely to use it. So this isn’t really going to be an inconvenience to most people and will make a huge difference to a lot of people.

      I’m not too dumb to figure out how to put them in, but I’d prefer not to spend time figuring it out. It’s about make things easy. It’s not about being lazy and stupid.

      • Nytmare says:

        The only problem I see, besides having to pay Microsoft a fee to make your hardware, is that now some devices will allow any-direction batteries and some will still require one-direction.

        I remember one or two devices or toys from years ago that required you to put the batteries in all pointing the same direction. AA battery rechargers come to mind. Makes you have to stop and look carefully every time you go to change the batteries in anything since they’re all different. Carefully — at the cheap-ass ultra-low-contrast plastic embossed battery position diagram.

        • Englishee Teacher says:

          From what I understand, the batteries aren’t changing, just the contacts in the device.

    • TuxedoCartman says:

      Microsoft is not making the world a better place, they’re enabling stupidity.

      There are a lot of things I’ll cut people slack on, give them the benefit of the doubt over. But I’m sorry… if you bring a camera back to the store because it doesn’t work, and you had the batteries in backwards, then you don’t need help inserting batteries; you need to be openly mocked and ridiculed.

      • SabreDC says:

        Enabling stupidity? That’s ridiculous. How is allowing batteries to work in any inserted configuration making people stupid? The point of this is that in 2010, there is no logical reason why the batteries MUST be put in a specific configuration. Eliminating a needless requirement doesn’t make people stupid.

        I’m sure you posted your comment using punch cards and raw HTTP requests.

      • kujospam says:

        I’m sure the invention of the automatic transmission was equally useless and created more stupid people.

        • jacques says:

          I agree completely! I don’t particularly like having to compromise on my car choices just because too many people are lazy and can’t learn how to use a clutch leading car companies to phase out manual transmissions or switch to those damn flappy panels on the steering wheel.

          Oh, were you being sarcastic?

    • Emily says:

      I think that’s exactly why they invented this… so they can cut down on the number of tech support calls/visits due to wrong-way batteries.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      This is why guns make the world a better place…

  3. rpm773 says:

    Hey, that’s great. Now I’m sure all these producers of battery-operated products will pony up the cash for the rights to use the InstaLoad(tm) technology.

    What’s next, Microsoft? UrScrewed(tm) – the screw that tightens and loosens regardless of which direction you turn it?

    • GoodBytes says:

      It’s called a nail :)

      • Caffinehog says:

        Actually, I was working on something last night. I couldn’t get the darn screws to unscrew. It turns out, they had used NAILS with a rounded top and a slit across the middle! WHY?????

    • bigmil87 says:

      God that would be awesome if they made screw/bolts like that. There are times where a bolt is threaded the other way and you think you are loosening it but all you are doing is tightening it.

      It’s even worse when its on a 70 Chevelle on the top of the transmission housing and you can’t see it with your eyes so you have to do it by hand and once you finally get that socket on there and start cranking to loosen it and nothing happens you realize it’s way to freaking tight now.

  4. dreamfish says:

    Microsoft making the world better for careless or stupid people.

    Then again, I suppose it will save a fortune on support calls.

  5. thekevinmonster says:

    I don’t know why this is so snarky or funny. They’ve taken advantage of the design of a AA battery and made contacts that can connect differentially to the positive and negative end of a battery, then enabled a way to figure out which way the battery is hooked up and wire it into the power circuit correctly. That’s pretty cool. No more “aww crap I can’t read the embossed little bit of diagram INSIDE the battery hole, I hope I put it in the right way”. You just put them in and it works. How is that not cool and useful?

  6. pantheonoutcast says:

    I can see this opening the doors for a whole host of new technology:

    Gas caps on both sides of the car for people that have owned their car for six years, but just can’t seem to remember what side it’s on,

    Double-hinged doors that can be pulled or pushed from either side for people who don’t feel like wasting 3 nanoseconds reading,

    Shoes manufactured without insteps to be used on either foot, shaving precious seconds off the morning routine,

    And countless more! Add your own!

    I’m surprised that people who can’t figure out battery installation have managed to procreate given the spatial enigma that is intercourse…

    • oloranya says:

      The gas cap situation is especially stupid since most cars have some sort of indicator near the gas meter on the dash as to what site the tank is on.

      • Daggertrout says:

        I don’t think I have ever seen anything like this.

      • calico says:

        I’ve never seen that either. Would’ve been helpful with my rental car last week.

        • wrjohnston91283 says:

          I don’t think my 1998 Ford has it, but my 2007 Mazda and 2010 Subaru do. I think my parent’s newer Fords (2003 and 2006) do as well.

      • thekevinmonster says:

        You are correct about the little arrow next to the gauge that points to the side of the car to tell you where the gas cap is. Most people probably don’t notice that there’s an arrow there or have never bothered to think about what it’s for.

        However, what would be more useful is instruction on how to open the gas filler door (not the cap, the door.) I rented a Chevy HHR once. Aside from having less engine power than a lawnmower and side windows so small the mirrors had to be extra-wide like truck mirrors in order to not hit cars in the blind spots, the gas filler door was spring loaded. You don’t push a button in the car, and you don’t just pull on a notch or use your car key to open it. You just push on it and it pops out.

        It took me and three other people about twenty minutes to figure it out because none of us had ever seen a car where such a convenience existed.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      actually the shoe that fits only a left or right foot is a relatively new invention. until 1818 shoes were made symmetrically for either foot

    • pyramus says:

      Doors shouldn’t require reading, not even three nanoseconds’ worth. As Donald Norman has ably pointed out, a door is one of those things that should tell you instantly how to operate it: you shouldn’t have to think about how to get into or out of a room or a building. In fact, badly designed doors that flummox you are sometimes called Norman doors.

      • S says:

        The doors at a movie theater I used to frequent had pull handles on the exit doors. Unfortunately, these doors were push only and people unfamiliar with them would stand there looking like idiots trying to figure out why the doors were “locked”. The tiny 1″x3″ PUSH signs they stuck to the doors didn’t help much.

    • Randell says:

      Maybe they have designed a special device that allows those that put it in the wrong hole to procreate.

    • Emperor Norton I says:

      There are doors that swing both ways!
      They’re called “cafe doors” & people use them in their homes & restaurants use them for the doors between the kitchen & the dining areas.
      Short ones are also used in many places to divide areas, such as courtrooms.

  7. gedster314 says:

    The only issues i ever had were with some motherboard/laptop/network device bios batteries. Just label the crap better and save the money from R&D and components!

  8. Squeaks says:

    So Microsoft can solve battery position mishaps yet, despite the 360 being a success, can’t even sell a phone for the younger market?

  9. shepd says:

    I’m sure this new technology is much cheaper to license than putting in a diode bridge (Total cost: About $0.04 for ones that can handle batteries). The diode bridge doesn’t even require special contacts! Although it does waste a bit of power (Although I hear new diodes wouldn’t waste more than 0.3 volts or so).

  10. HungryGal says:

    I can’t wait for the infomercial for this!

    • BeFrugalNotCheap says:

      Oooh, the infomercial for this could be AWESOME! Imagine: A voice over droning on, asking how much you hate trying to align the batteries just right. It’ll show some person struggling with the batteries. It’ll be shot in black and white. Cut to color shot of same actor/actress with cheshire cat grin as they slide/pop in the inserter device and gush to the camera how easy it is! In fact, it’s so simple their 4 year old can do it! WOW.

  11. backwerds says:

    This technology is actually pretty impressive; and its better aimed if you said it was to help individuals with vision issues ranging from poor vision to complete blindness.

    • P_Smith says:

      Batteries have tips at the positive end and the spring is where the negative end goes. The blind work by touch, so that’s a non-issue unless the device has no springs in the battery socket.

      • LafinJack says:

        The contacts in my wireless mouse don’t have springs, just a kind of flange that looks very similar to the other contact – and would feel identical if I could fit any of my fingers down there. And the only directions are on the plastic battery pull, which could rip off one day.

  12. quail says:

    As a kid I always wondered why they didn’t make it so that the battery could only fit one way into the compartment. You know, have one end flared or something. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dealt with kids toys that require you to unscrew the compartment to find there’s no markings as to which direction the batteries go, and there’s no springs only flat contacts, and you have no idea what the correct way is to insert them.

    This looks like a decent idea but how much will it add to the cost for this patented innovation? Even if the cost is negligible it will be 20 years before even 1/3 of the stuff out there uses this tech. And by then who knows if we’ll even have this form of replaceable battery?

    • James says:

      Flaring one end would make it tough to load batteries into things like flashlights, where you’re effectively stringing together multiple batteries in a tube.

  13. P_Smith says:

    While it’s a good idea, it also sounds like the dumbing down of society. Just how hard is it to notice where the positive and negative ends go?

    I would have thought that springs at one end would be enough. The negative/flat end always goes to the spring, and the positive end is the one that has a notch that makes removal with a fingernail easy.

    What would help more is ribbons in every device allowing for easy battery removal.


    • HungryGal says:

      Plus, this isn’t likely to be universally adopted. So even if you do happen to buy a device that has this new technology, you’re still going to have a house full of stuff that works the old way.

      I do think that the battery compartments should be better marked- color coding or something instead of those tiny little diagrams etched into the lids.

      Microsoft should with writing software. I’m sure the development time for this could have been better used, say, beta testing Vista. Or fixing the security holes in IE. Or making sure that Hotmail has up to date security certificates (I get warnings all the time from them- you’d think MICROSOFT would be on top of that kind of stuff.)

  14. mewyn dyner says:

    The one thing I’m hoping is that they have a short protection. Looking at how it works, if the plastic wrapping around the positive terminal is broken, that is a potential short point, and could cause the battery to heat and potentially rupture or start on fire.

  15. Ben says:

    Wow, I’d hate to hear what you guys said when the wheel was invented.

    “Wheel? I already got two wheels on the ends of my legs! They take me anywhere I want to go. What’s next, some sort of ‘portable sun’ to heat things up for impatient people?”

    • coren says:

      That’s apples and alligators you’re comparing there. The wheel has a ridiculous amount of uses and it’s invention has transformed society.

      This lets you put a battery in either way.

    • BeFrugalNotCheap says:

      Fail. We would’ve LOVED to hear of the invention of the wheel. Why the hate? Life getting you down? Need a hug?

  16. Nighthawke says:

    A simple, but elegant set up using diodes and current sensing rectifiers. You could easily put your batteries in backwards in a incandescent flashlight and it would not notice the difference. But with electronics, you put them in backwards, they would be damaged. I like their solution to a ever-present issue.

    Its the simple matter of cost vs necessity in which this circuit dictated when and where it would be installed. Microsoft has scads of cash so they put it to work.

    • WayneB says:

      If you click the link to read the details at Microsoft, you’ll see that no diodes are involved here. It’s all in the mechanism of the contacts which has both positive and negative terminals at each end. No additional electronics or circuitry, other than additional traces on the PCB to accommodate the alternate power paths, since there are now 4 instead of 1.

  17. chiangxiong says:

    What is funny is how many women I’ve observed that don’t actually pay attention to the different style of terminal at each end or the symbols that are often present. Stereotypical and sexist? For sure, but I can’t tell you how many times I have wowed some girl by pointing this out after watching them battery-fail. I love women and of course this does not represent ALL of them :)

  18. ss60 says:

    all that is needed is a couple diodes (allow current to flow in only one direction), even in consumer quantities they only cost pennies each

  19. whatdoyoucare says:

    I wish they made these for tv remotes. Our kids have lost the backs of several remotes and thus the batteries are constantly falling out. The youngest tries to be helpful by putting them back in only to always get it wrong.

  20. scientific progress goes boink says:

    I wouldn’t mind this for my camera… the stupid thing has the diagram on the side at the bottom so it’s impossible to see. not like it takes much effort to flip them around.

  21. theholymac says:

    Ok, this makes more sense now that I’ve seen the Microsoft site, but a lot less useful…

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like the InstaLoad batteries are only polarity-independent if placed in a device that is designed for InstaLoad batteries. Placed into a normal device, which does not have the special contacts, and you still have to place the new, special battery in the correct orientation. Right?

  22. Not Again says:

    I had this idea many years ago. Could never figure out why the batteries needed to be in opposite directions.

  23. MedicallyNeedy says:

    Good name for a Stool softener too!

  24. PsiCop says:

    It’s unbelievable, the anger this has generated. The truth is that this DOES serve a need … and not just because people are stupid. There are folks whose vision and/or dexterity are poor, who in spite of knowing there is a right and wrong way to put in a battery, may still have trouble with it.

    The truth is that this is something that could have been invented long ago, but was not. It is a clever invention, and thus cannot be bad. Except maybe for the Microsoft haters. But who really cares what the script kiddies and Linux fanbois think about it?

    • WayneB says:

      I totally agree with you. Do you think there would be this much hate if it came from another company, say, Apple?

      • PsiCop says:

        Actually, yes, I do. Apple stories have also brought on venomous comments. Most of that outrage was also disproportionate and inappropriate.

  25. JonBoy470 says:

    That sound you heard was me doing a facepalm…

    Repeat after me: “Knowing how to properly insert AA batteries into products I own is a requirement to be a functional human being.” There’s a polarity diagram molded into the product. Failing that, the spring terminal in the device touches the negative terminal of the battery, and the flat terminal in the device touches the positive (button) terminal of the battery. If you can’t figure that out, then sorry, but you’re not a functional human being.

  26. chrisexv6 says:

    99% of the time, look for the spring. Flat side of the battery goes onto the spring.

    The other 1% of the time is some cheapo toy that wont work for very long anyway, even with the batteries inserted the right way :)

  27. kaltkalt says:

    Iv’e never found putting batteries into things to be all that difficult. Opening the package is usually the only hard part.

    If there’s an easy way to make it so the batteries can go in facing either/any direction, great why not (unless it requires insanely high patent licensing fees… seems so obvious it shouldn’t even be patentable in the first place). But I don’t buy the reasons given for why it’s actually a huge improvement or advantage. People who are too lazy to look at either the diagram or the connections (or both) to see which way the batteries go deserve to have their electronics short out and blow up. It’s not that hard. You still have to fumble with the batteries and squeeze them in, and that can be difficult at times, even when putting them in the correct way… like loading bullets into a magazine, can rip the skin off your fingers sometimes. This won’t change that.

  28. gc3160thtuk says you got your humor in my sarcasm and you say you got your sarcasm in my humor says:

    nevermind that their immediate response to putting batteries in the device and it not turning right on would be to race back to the store and demand a refund or exchange. The batteries go one way or another. And if turning them around is not your first thought, try checking what side the spring is on. The spring end is usually negative. The cartridge idea is a stupid one, but of course my own life experiences tell me that some ppl will not be able to add batteries to their device without lots of crying and gnashing of teeth or by using an idiot proof battery cartridge.

  29. brianary says:

    The problem with licensing isn’t the cost of the license.

    It’s proposing the idea internally, and having meetings that may by themselves may cost more than the license to justify the license. It’s deciding which department pays for it. It’s negotiating a price, and drafting then re-drafting contracts, and dealing with possible disagreement on what constitutes “boilerplate” language, and getting a PO for the right GL. It’s setting up internal communication and training and integration sessions, paying for travel to same, and establishing support contracts. It’s communicating the change to your customers and handling the surge in support calls just because something has changed (“There’s no diagram! Which way do I put these batteries in?”) It’s maintaining any keys or documents required by the agreement, keeping them ready for auditing. It’s making sure that no one at your company will step outside the license and call down overzealous enforcement upon you (especially by disgruntled employees who may be responsible for both the infraction and the tip-off). It’s about paying for the maintenance agreements, and not having the freedom to stop once your customers have grown accustomed to the licensed technology.

    This is why technology unencumbered by licensing is so attractive.

  30. verbatim613 says:

    couldn’t people just read the instructions?

  31. grapedog says:

    Normally, if the batteries don’t work… i flip them the other way around. I know it takes a few seconds of my life… but usually I can work it out within an hour or so. Thankfully it doesn’t take me hours to figure out how to “install” a battery.

  32. CapitalC says:

    When they call it a “cell” and not a “battery”, I’ll stop snickering.

  33. gman863 says:

    How do you get someone who really needs this battery feature to commit suicide?

    Hand then the scissors and ask them, “Who’s Special?”

  34. MrTreoZ says:

    This is a great feature. As people dumb down, so should the devices around them. My eyesight has gone to pot, but I have magnified glasses and magnifying glasses around the house to figure out the small stuff. I think bolder polarity markings are a good idea, but since most people don’t have any patience at all these days this works – except for those trying to fit double A’s in the triple A bays. Next they have to make all the batteries the same size…

  35. MrTreoZ says:

    This is a great feature. As people dumb down, so should the devices around them. My eyesight has gone to pot, but I have magnified glasses and magnifying glasses around the house to figure out the small stuff. I think bolder polarity markings are a good idea, but since most people don’t have any patience at all these days this works – except for those trying to fit double A’s in the triple A bays. Next they have to make all the batteries the same size…

  36. flychinook says:

    Ok, but now everybody is going to end up spending MORE time staring at their new electronic toy, trying to find the little + and – so they know which way to put the batteries.