The world has a problem…
Well, many problems, actually… but I’m referring to one in particular here.
In an era where we’re hopelessly addicted to our mobile devices, modern technology hasn’t yet managed to make life even easier by detaching us – and our devices – from wires.
Everywhere we go, we’re constantly worried about battery life, scrambling to find a power outlet before the phone dies.
Especially since our battery life sucks.
Need proof of our angst?
Next time you’re at an airport, just look at the gaggle of people crowding around power outlets, frantically juicing up before boarding.
I personally can’t go one whole day anymore without needing to charge my phone.
Sad, I know.
And as dependent as we are on our phones, we’re equally dependent on the wires we use to charge them.
It seems oddly outdated.
So what’s the solution?
We’ve talked before about the onset of wireless charging as a major, up-and-coming technology trend.
Indeed, IMS Research expects the number of wireless charging-enabled devices to surpass 100 million by 2015.
This is merely the tip of the iceberg.
And given the massive proliferation of mobile devices around the globe, I can’t think of many more crucial technology trends than this.
There’s a host of innovation happening in this area – and researchers at the University of California, San Diego, are working on a device that mixes novel with what can only be described as a bit nasty, too…
The Sweat Battery
They’ve created a bio-battery tattoo, which uses human sweat to generate energy.
Specifically, it uses lactate – a substance found naturally in sweat, which could power phones, watches, and even heart monitors, according to developer, Dr. Wenzhao Jia.
Lactate also serves a dual purpose…
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Not only do people use the substance to monitor their work rate and fitness levels, Jia says, “We’re working on enhancing it so it can power small electronic devices.”
So the team expanded their innovation. Having initially wanted to make a wearable sensor that makes it faster and easier to monitor lactate (since traditional lactate monitoring requires taking blood samples), they turned it into a bio-battery, where it uses sweat to generate power.
They did so by printing a lactate sensor onto tattoo paper, where it’s affixed to the wearer’s arm. An enzyme then turns the electrons in the lactate to produce an electrical current.
Jia says it’s the first device of its kind to generate power from sweat.
In tests, volunteers rode an exercise bike while wearing the battery tattoo generated up to 70 microwatts per square centimeter of skin. Ironically, less fit people produced more sweat – and thus, more power.
She tells the BBC, “I’ve worn it myself – you don’t even feel it. It really is like a tattoo. We can measure our heart rate, but if you combine that physical feedback with chemical data, you get a much more comprehensive view of your exercise status.”
But needless to say, it wasn’t easy…
Wanted: More Power and Sensitivity
With such a small, wearable patch, Jia says the challenge is to pack enough technology into the device to produce a viable amount of power.
And with the electrodes only measuring 2mm by 3mm, “the power is not that high – only four microwatts,” says Jia. “But we’re working on enhancing it so it can power small electronic devices.”
One way of doing that is to make the device more sensitive to lactate, or to work biofuel cells into it.
Ultimately, while bio-batteries might not pack the same punch as traditional ones, as technology improves, this method could be a viable energy source.
As Jia says, “They recharge more quickly, they’re safer… and they use a renewable resource – you.”
In time, hitting the gym might not just be for physical and emotional well-being. You can generate energy for your phone, too.