A new device has been developed by the researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, which transforms the human body into a biological battery.
The device is stretchy enough that one can wear it as a ring or bracelet or any other accessory that touches the skin. The device uses a person’s natural heat and employs thermoelectric generators to convert the body’s internal temperature into electricity.
Jianliang Xiao, senior author of the recent paper said that they wanted humans to power their electronics without having to include a battery.
The devices generate about 1 volt of energy for every square centimetre of skin space, less voltage per area than what most existing batteries provide, but still enough to power electronics like watches or fitness trackers.
The device is new of its kind, where it can heal itself when damaged and also is fully recyclable.
The project isn’t Xiao’s first attempt to meld humans with robots. There were previous experiments where they designed electronic skin, wearable devices that look, and behave, much like real human skin. However, it needed to be connected to an external power source to work.
The team’s innovation began with a base made out of a stretchy material called polyimine. Then they stuck a series of thin thermoelectric chips into the base, connecting them all with liquid metal wires. The product looks like a crossover of a plastic bracelet and a miniature computer motherboard.
“Our design makes the whole system stretchable without introducing much strain to the thermoelectric material, which can be really brittle,” Xiao said.
This new tech captures heat the body generates of activities that we perform, thus not letting the heat go waste.
Xiao added that we can also boost the power by adding more blocks of generators.
He says that this is just like a Lego game where you add smaller pieces to form a larger one.
The new devices are as resilient as biological tissue. One interesting thing is that if the device tears, we can pinch together the broken ends, and they’ll seal back up in just a few minutes. Moreover, once you’re done with the device, you can dunk it into a special solution that will separate out the electronic components and dissolve the polyimine base — each one of those ingredients can then be reused.
While there are still kinks to work out in the design, he thinks that his group’s devices could appear on the market in 5-10 years.
Wei Ren, Yan Sun, Dongliang Zhao, Ablimit Aili, Shun Zhang, Chuanqian Shi, Jialun Zhang, Huiyuan Geng, Jie Zhang, Lixia Zhang, Jianliang Xiao, Ronggui Yang. High-performance wearable thermoelectric generator with self-healing, recycling, and Lego-like reconfiguring capabilities. Science Advances, 2021; 7 (7): eabe0586 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe0586