Soon, you may be able to stop worrying about your Apple iPod draining out of charge while on the move. If an incredible technology developed by scientists hits the shelves, it will be possible to power up the device using the human heart.
A team of scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta has created a tiny chip which uses natural motion to generate power for hand-held gadgets.
They hope that it could one day even use the human heart to power a range of devices including Apple iPods and mobile phones – and do away with batteries entirely.
“This development represents a milestone toward producing portable electronics that can be powered by body movements without the use of batteries or electrical outlets.” said the lead researcher Dr Zhong Lin Wang.
“Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future. Their potential is only limited by one’s imagination,” he added.
The team, presenting their findings at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, have used it to power LCD displays and diodes, as well as to transmit a radio signal once its generated power has been stored.
Their latest device is thousands of times more powerful than its predecessors, allowing scientists to take the technology out of the lab for the first time.
“In the past, our voltage was less than one volt, so we could not power anything,” said Zhong Lin Wang. “But now we can achieve three volts or even as high as five to 10 volts so that we can store the generated charge and use it to power those small devices.”
Dr Wang said: “If we can sustain the rate of improvement, the nanogenerator may find a broad range of other applications that require more power.”
Although, the chip is in the very early stages of development and has only just become powerful enough to have any practical application, but further improvements could herald a vision of battery-less personal electronics, particularly for those with active lifestyles, that would make such devices even smaller and lighter than they currently are.
The technology is based on zinc-oxide nanowires, which generate electricity when flexed. Almost any body movement – even just the beating of the heart – could generate power, according to the project’s leader, Dr. Zhong Lin Wang.
Dr Wang’s team worked to capture and combine the power of millions of the nanowires, which are so small that 500 could fit in a human hair.
Five nanogenerators working together produced about 1 micro ampere output current at 3 volts about the same voltage generated by two regular AA batteries.
Dr Wang said: “While a few volts may not seem like much, it has grown by leaps and bounds over previous versions of the nanogenerator.
“Additional nanowires and more nanogenerators, stacked together, could produce enough energy for powering larger electronics, such as an iPod or charging a cell phone.”
The technology has many implications, from medical to recreational. Pacemakers that could keep themselves recharged – and their wearers informed about their status – or a person could simply recharge their cell phone by engaging in normal day-to-day activities like walking or climbing stairs.
Though it may be years before the technology is ready to come to market, it promises an interesting and perhaps the most eco-friendly option of generating small amounts of electricity ever invented – by simply harnessing the kinetic energy of its users.
“Our bodies are good at converting chemical energy from glucose into the mechanical energy of our muscles,” Wang is quoted as saying.
“These nanogenerators can take that mechanical energy and convert it to electrical energy for powering devices inside [or outside] the body. This could open up tremendous possibilities.” [via The Telegraph (UK), Live Science, iPodNN and Daily Mail (UK)]