Matrix-Style Bracelets Turn Wearer Into Human Battery

(Noted News) — Matrix fans might be excited to try out new technology that allows your own body heat to power watches and other devices on your wrist. 

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have discovered a green way of converting thermal energy from the body into electric power. By utilizing thermoelectric chips, a stretchy band of fabric can sit between human skin and the device to harvest energy from the skin and convert it to electricity for the device. 

The research paper, published in Science Advances, suggests using thermonuclear generators (TEGs) to power the “internet of things,” and proposes it to be part of the next big phase of consumer electronics.

“Thermoelectric generators (TEGs) are an excellent candidate for powering wearable electronics and the ‘Internet of Things,’ due to their capability of directly converting heat to electrical energy.”

“Here, we report a high-performance wearable TEG with superior stretchability, self-healability, recyclability, and LEGO-like reconfigurability, by combining modular thermoelectric chips, dynamic covalent polyimine, and flowable liquid-metal electrical wiring in a mechanical architecture design of ‘soft motherboard-rigid plugin modules.’ A record-high open-circuit voltage among flexible TEGs is achieved, reaching 1 V/cm2 at a temperature difference of 95 K.”

“Furthermore, this TEG is integrated with a wavelength-selective metamaterial film on the cold side, leading to greatly improved device performance under solar irradiation, which is critically important for wearable energy harvesting during outdoor activities. The optimal properties and design concepts of TEGs reported here can pave the way for delivering the next-generation high-performance, adaptable, customizable, durable, economical, and eco-friendly energy-harvesting devices with wide applications.”

The devices generate about 1 volt of energy per square centimeter of skin covered.

The paper’s senior author, Jianliang Xiao, said that one of the big strengths of the technology was its potential to reduce toxic electronic waste. Without the need for batteries, devices could last longer, and landfills would be relieved of millions of dead, toxic batteries. 

The researchers, led by Xiao, refer to this TEG technology as “energy harvesting.” The paper describes a system whereby starting with 25 °C (77 °F), the TEG begins to generate more and more energy the hotter the temperature. The TEG is able to generate enough energy to power devices that utilize radio frequency communications (wifi, cellular data, Bluetooth). 

“This TEG has excellent mechanical flexibility and, thus, can be worn on the human body for energy harvesting. For the surface area of a typical sports wristband (6 cm by 25 cm), a power output of 12.5 μW and a voltage output of 5 V can be generated when the wearer is walking, which is enough to directly drive most low-power sensor nodes with radio frequency communication.”

The researchers joked not to “tell the robots. We don’t want them getting any ideas.” 

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