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Be your own charger with new heat-harvesting fabric

Your body heat could power your smart devices and the Internet of Things.

         

“I got a smart phone with a dumb battery,” sing hip-hop artists DJ Pasquan and Lank from Olympia, Washington. “Messing with my phone takes all my energy.”

The song echoes the frustrations of many phone users who wish they could spend less time charging and more time, well, doing anything but waiting on a plugged-in phone.

“Every time I want to use a map, it seems to want to take a nap,” they rap. “My man, the struggle is real.”

But the struggle could get easier with a newly-announced invention from researchers at Purdue University.

Imagine an arm band or even a T-shirt you could wear that would harvest the heat from your own body and power smart devices.

You become your own charger.

 

Schematic of fabric. Image credit: Yazawa & Shakouri/Purdue

 

Someday, we could all be wearing this special fabric, supplying our own electricity for mobile devices and the Internet of Things.

“That is my dream,” said co-inventor Kazuaki “Kaz” Yazawa, research associate professor at the Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue.

“I envision a future with a variety of implementations of this powering device,” he told Archer News.

Light bulb

It started with an idea.

“I personally wanted to have a wearable power source in general,” Yazawa said. 

We all put off a lot of heat, and Yazawa and his co-inventor Ali Shakouri wanted to turn that heat into electricity.

But the technology to carry that out was rigid, inflexible, unable to fit the human body.

So, the researchers looked for a way to solve the problem and found it, designing semiconductor strings to weave into a fabric that can fit over a 3-D surface—like your arm or chest—and hunt for heat.

They call it “flexible thermoelectric generator technology.” It’s so new, they don’t even have pictures of it yet.

 

A tightly-fitting vest made of the special fabric could generate electricity to charge smart devices for athletes. Image credit: skeeze via Pixabay

 

High-tech fashion

The technology—and how you would wear it—is a work in progress. 

“Just in my imagination, I’m thinking of a vest that fits to the body tightly, and partially-including this powering device,” Yazawa said. “Or, it can be a band on your upper [or] lower arm, like a sporting supporter band.”

Like many new tech devices, it could come in different styles and colors. It could be a fabric, or a patch that you apply to your body.

“It can be a fashion if you will,” he said. “Importance is to fit/attach to the skin properly.”

What can you power?

You could generate electricity for all kinds of smart things.

But Yazawa sees it as ideal for medical devices like heart, breathing and temperature monitors.

 

The special fabric could power a wearable heart monitor for sick or elderly people, researchers said. Image via Pixabay

 

Sick people or older people would not have to worry about charging the devices. And athletes could use the fabric for devices that monitor their vitals.

“This fabric/tape-type device may allow to ‘wear’ the IoT [Internet of Things] sensors for health/medical care purpose in communicating real time with a care taker [or] doctor though the Internet wherever you are, and you do not have to worry about charging battery for it,” he explained.

How much do you generate?

Humans are warm-blooded, so we make heat.

Each square foot of your body gives off the heat of almost 20 matches every hour, according to the Cornell University Ergonomics Web.

The average person could give off 105 watts every hour if they’re just sitting and reading a book. That’s enough to power a bright light bulb—or your phone.

Move your muscles more, and you generate more. Go for a jog, and you could triple your output.

But as the special fabric sucks up heat, it could also cool you down.

 

Schematic of fabric. Image credit: Yazawa & Shakouri/Purdue

 

Yazawa thinks this power-generating material might be useful in underwear for soldiers and athletes.

“Anything that takes heat and converts it to another form of energy is also providing a cooling effect,” he explained in a Purdue announcement about the invention.

“Therefore, this technology also could provide a continuous cooling treatment,” he added. “This could be especially beneficial from a sports or military perspective.”

Power underwear?

Smart things are changing how we view our world.

“New phone looks like a bar of chocolate,” DJ Pasquan and Link say in their anti-ode to smart phones.

Someday, your new phone charger could also take on a new shape—you.

 

Hip-hop artists DJ Pasquan & Lank express frustration over phone charging in “Smart phone, dumb battery.” Image credit: YouTube: “Smart phone, dumb battery”

 

If Yazawa’s vision becomes reality, the sale of smart devices might jump even more, as people take advantage of a lower electric bill and more convenience. 

The Internet of Things might get even bigger, though some lament, still not secure.

You might end up looking for anything giving off extra heat, like a chimney, a cup of coffee or your dog, to get a free power boost.

If charging problems are solved—or at least mitigated—you’d have more time to focus on the other tech issues that may drive you crazy or put you at risk.

Like these.

“My screen’s cracked, so I keep it in my pocket,” DJ Pasquan and Lank rap. “It has security but I never lock it. I got a call. Didn’t know the number, so I blocked it.”

 

Featured image: Example of fabric. Image credit: Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

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