The future of battery power: You
In the near future, we may be able to charge technology using just our bodies.
Many of us today are infatuated with our portable electronics. They add a convenience and accessibility to our life that didn’t exist just a few years ago. At least, while their batteries still have a charge.
Luckily for us, the oppression of the charging cable may soon be a thing of the past. Thanks to various research initiatives, alternate power sources are just around the corner, such as using your body as the charger.
Ever since the invention of batteries, researchers and engineers have striven to improve the amount of time a battery can produce power before needing to be recharged or replaced. It appears that a battery can only be improved so much before it rises to a cost outside the pay-grade of the average consumer. For that reason, a new realm of research opened, one that explores the various ways energy can be collected from the human body.
One such technology is thermoelectric generators, which utilize the temperature difference between our skin and the air around us. This temperature difference creates a current in a circuit that can be used to power a wearable device or to use your body as a phone charger.
Recent innovations have led to thermoelectric generators being lightweight and flexible, allowing them to be comfortably fixed to the skin with tape or glue.
In the past, the cost of materials and the low power output of such devices made them impractical for the market. However, as new and more efficient materials that can be used in these components are produced, these devices move further from being a pipe-dream and closer to becoming reality.
Matrix Industries, a California-based startup, plans to start shipping a body-heat-powered smartwatch this October, closing the gap between the present and the future. The website claims that it’s the only smartwatch to feature a power meter which displays how much electrical power you’re generating.
As with any thermoelectric device, the more you exercise, the more heat you produce; the more heat you produce, the more electricity you produce. This acts as a pretty solid motivator for exercise. So when the collapse of society takes place, you’ll be able to outrun those scavengers while always knowing what time it is!
Another bodily mechanism that is being turned into electricity is sweat. Well, not exactly sweat, but lactate. Lactate is a salt of lactic acid. When we use our muscles, they produce lactic acid, some of which makes its way into our sweat. Researchers at University of California, San Diego were able to develop enzymes that react with lactate to produce electricity. This technology can be embedded in what is essentially a temporary tattoo and holds promise in the field of medical monitoring devices.
Speaking of human-battery powered medical devices, Panasonic is working on generating electricity from human blood.
By attempting to mimic the way our bodies break down sugar, or glucose, for energy, Panasonic is researching a process to produce electricity in the hopes of powering medical devices such as pacemakers. While this may seem really creepy, it has the potential to provide a safer way to power such devices as opposed to changing batteries every eight years.
Unfortunately, there is a limit to how much energy can be harvested from the human body. At any given time, our bodies produce 10 to 100 milli-volts. In comparison, an eel can produce up to 860 volts. So its unlikely that we will someday power our televisions with just our body, but smaller devices are still on the table (as well as eel-powered devices).
Hopefully, the future holds even more innovation that will take us off the leash of needing an outlet. And hopefully, even farther in the future, one day I can get those robotic eyes I’ve wanted since I was 5 without having to charge them on my nightstand every night.
Follow Brian Winkler on Twitter