The advances in wearable technology would potentially change a life, business, and world economy. Devices such as Google Glass, Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Oculus Rift would change the way users receive, use, and share data.
Wearable technology was once considered impossible. However, the landscape has come a long way since the first wrist-sized calculator or the first Bluetooth headsets.
Consumers still believe, however, that wearables are expensive. A 2016 Gartner survey found that customers under age 45 did not plan to buy a smart wearable, thinking the devices are too costly because they do not offer persuasive product features.
Human Batteries For The Wearable
Recently, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have invented a different, low-cost wearable device that turns the human body into a biological power supply. As described in the Science Advances journal, the device is stretchable, so users can wear it like a ring, bracelet or any other accessory that touches their skin.
The device taps into the wearer’s natural body heat through thermoelectric generators and converts the body’s internal temperature into an energy source.
“In the future, we want to be able to power your wearable electronics without having to include a battery,” said Jianliang Xiao, senior author of the new paper and an associate professor in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering at CU Boulder.
Although the concept sounded like the movie The Matrix, for every square centimetre of skin space, the scientists said the device could produce about 1 volt of energy. It means that the energy generated per area is less than that provided by most current batteries. However, it is sufficient to power wearables like watches or fitness bands.
For instance, the body temperature will increase when a user is exercising, and the heat escapes from the body to cool down. Instead of allowing it to dissipate, the sensor detects that flow of energy.
“The thermoelectric generators are in close contact with the human body, and they can use the heat that would normally be dissipated into the environment,” he said.
Add On To Have More Power
Xiao said if a user wants to boost the power, they can add more blocks of generators which he compared his design to Lego blocks.
“What I can do is combine these smaller units to get a bigger unit,” he said. “It’s like putting together a bunch of small Lego pieces to make a large structure. It gives you a lot of options for customization.”
He and his colleagues have estimated that a person taking a casual stroll would use a typical smartwatch to generate about 5 volts of electricity. The amount of energy is more than what many watch batteries can produce.
The device is also resilient thanks to their electronic skin – an invention that came out before that looks and behave like human skin. So, if the device tears, it can be sealed up in a few minutes.
According to Xiao, when not in use, the device can be dipped into a specific solution that will separate the electronic components and dissolve the polyimine base to be used again.
“We’re trying to make our devices as cheap and reliable as possible, while also having as close to zero impact on the environment as possible,” Xiao said.
Despite some design flaws that need to be improved, Xiao believes that in five to 10 years, the devices could be available on the market.