Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a new low-cost portable device that transforms the human body into a biological battery.
The device, described in the journal Science Advances , is elastic enough that you can use it as a ring, a bracelet or any other accessory that touches your skin. It also takes advantage of a person's natural heat, using thermoelectric generators to convert the internal temperature of the body into electricity.
"In the future, we want to be able to power portable electronic devices without having to include a battery," said Jianliang Xiao, lead author of the new paper and associate professor in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The concept may sound like something straight out of the Matrix movie series , in which a race of robots have enslaved humans to harvest their precious organic energy. Xiao and his colleagues aren't that ambitious: Their devices can generate around 1 volt of power for every square centimeter of space on the skin - less voltage per area than most existing batteries provide, but enough to power electronic devices like watches or fitness trackers.
Scientists have previously experimented with similar portable thermoelectric devices, but Xiao's is springy, can self-fix when damaged, and is fully recyclable, making it a cleaner alternative to traditional electronics.
"Whenever you use a battery, you are draining it and eventually you will have to replace it," said Xiao. "The great thing about our thermoelectric device is that you can use it and it gives you constant power."
The project is not Xiao's first attempt at fusing humans with robots. He and his colleagues previously experimented with the design of "electronic skin" - wearable devices that look and behave much like real human skin. That Android epidermis, however, has to be connected to an external power source for it to work.
The group's latest innovation starts with a base made from a stretchy material called polyimine . The scientists then place a series of thin thermoelectric chips on that base, connecting them all with liquid metal wires. The end product looks like a cross between a plastic bracelet and a miniature computer motherboard or perhaps a technical diamond ring.
"Our design makes the entire system stretchable without putting a lot of stress on the thermoelectric material, which can be really brittle," said Xiao.
Just pretend you're going for a run. As you exercise, your body warms up and that heat radiates into the cool air around you. Xiao's device captures that flow of energy rather than letting it go to waste.
"Thermoelectric generators are in close contact with the human body and can use heat that would normally be dissipated in the environment," he said.
He added that you can easily increase that power by adding more generator blocks. In that sense, he compares its design to a popular children's toy.
"What I can do is combine these smaller units to get a larger unit," he said. “ It's like putting a bunch of little Lego pieces together to make a big structure. It gives you many customization options «.
Xiao and his colleagues calculated, for example, that a brisk walking person could use a device the size of a typical sports bracelet to generate about 5 volts of electricity, which is more than many watch batteries can handle.
Like Xiao's electronic skin, the new devices are as tough as biological tissue. If your device breaks, for example, you can put the broken ends together and they will be sealed again in just a few minutes. And when you are done with the device, you can soak it in a special solution that will separate the electronics and dissolve the polyimine base. Each and every one of those ingredients can be reused.
"We are trying to make our devices as cheap and reliable as possible, while at the same time having an impact on the environment as close to zero as possible," said Xiao.
While there are still problems to be solved in the design, he believes that the devices of his group could appear on the market in five to ten years. Don't tell the robots. We do not want them to have ideas, "they say from the University of Colorado.
News Source : Globe Live Media