In the sci-fi classic The Matrix, one of the film's most bananas moments reveals that futuristic machines are using cocooned human bodies as a kind of bioelectric power source. Those rascally science fiction writers - always with the crazy concepts.
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Well, it turns out the people-as-batteries scenario is actually well on its way. A new device unveiled last week at a European research conference is designed to do just that - tapping the energy of human body to generate power for wearable computers and devices.
The postage-stamp sized generator, developed by researchers at the National University of Singapore, actually leverages the power of static electricity. When certain kinds of dissimilar surfaces are put in close contact, an electrical charge builds that can be harvested when the surfaces are flexed or pulled apart.
The phenomenon is called the triboelectric effect, and the new device radically miniaturizes the approach by using nanoscale elements - plus the wearer's skin itself as one of the opposing surfaces. The research was presented at this year's IEEE MEMS 2015 conference in Portugal.
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"Skin, the most abundant surface on a human body, is a natural choice for one of the triboelectric layers," says researcher Lokesh Dhakar in the IEEE Spectrum report. For the opposing surface, the research team developed a thin silicone layer covered with thousands of flexible pillar-like structures. A nanoscale layer of gold film acts as the device's electrode.
The researchers tested the device by attaching it to subjects' forearms and throats. Muscle movements triggered by everyday activities like speaking or grasping objects generated enough friction to power up to 12 commercial LEDs.
Observers prone to paranoia about these things may note that, in this instance, the machines are literally going for our throats. Anyway, I'm sure it will all work out fine.
via IEEE Spectrum
Credit: National University of Singapore