Vladimir Leonov and Ruud Vullers of the Interuniversity Microelectronics Center in Belgium have built up on past work and devised an ambitious "energy harvester" -- a device that essentially turns humans into big walking batteries. The research could lead to iPods and cell phones that never lose charge.
The researcher's new body heat-driven power supplies strap on to your forehead as a stylish head band. From there, they start harvesting your delicious thermal energy and turning it into electricity for the machines. Who knew homeostasis and electronics could wed so beautifully?
One system's waste is another's treasure -- when the body gives off heat during homeostasis, the process used to maintain a constant body temperature, a gradient is created with the surrounding air (hot by the body and increasingly cold as you travel away from the skin). Special electronics known as thermopiles can tap into this gradient and convert the energy to electricity.
The researchers demonstrated an electrocardiogram (ECG) dress shirt that looked pretty stylish and kept a monitor on your vitals to boot -- all without ever needing a battery. For those who aren't digging the headband, the researchers showed off a little bling -- a gold watch that serves as both a heat harvester and a stylish timepiece.
The downside is that human body heat energy generation isn't very efficient -- so either your army of robots needs to be very ultra-low voltage, or you need a lot of humans to power it. The researchers are working on developing ultra-low voltage (ULV) devices to exploit the bit of energy they manage to squeeze out. Why not just use a tiny battery in lieu of the pricey thermo-electrics? Because that would be plain old-fashioned, of course -- or at least that's the researchers' apparent line of thinking.
The new research can be found here, reported in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
The idea of harvesting the kinetic and thermal waste energy produced from the human body is nothing new. For over a century self-winding watches have harvested wrist motion to never need a battery or old-fashioned hand-winding. Researchers are currently investigating putting similar energy harvesting devices on the wrist, hips, shoes soles, and potentially in backpacks. The army is looking to use such piezoelectric generators in its next generation of packs to help power soldiers' ULV electronics. Scientists have even devised tiny blood-stream generators to harvest the kinetic energy of the bloodstream to power nanoelectronics.