As we barrel into the future, we’re going to need more electricity for all the gear we’ll be festooned with. And that’s a tricky prospect than it might at first seem; if you’re going to wear the technology in question, you shouldn’t have to take it off just to recharge it. And a team of researchers in South Korea might have finally solved this problem, with this wearable thermoelectric generator.
As you may have guessed from the name, this particular generator is powered by your body heat. It’s actually not a new idea; scientists have been studying thermoelectric concepts for decades. But until now, wearing one on your body was limited by the materials available; inorganic materials generated more power, but were too bulky and rigid, while organic materials didn’t generate enough power to be viable. So how to beat that? New materials!
They pulled it off by using glass fabric. It manages to solve two problems with one material; the fabric won’t let go of the heat it collects, and its flexibility makes it simple to use and to wear. With that in place, the researchers were able to create a highly efficient thermoelectric generator that could be glued to any place on your body.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be wearing Google Glass powered by your own body heat tomorrow. This is still a prototype and the team is still working on various issues surrounding, well, strapping something that leaches your body heat to you. But it’s undeniably a breakthrough that’s likely going to be developed into an actual product, since it has applications everywhere from outdoorsmanship to wearable computing. Don’t be surprised if, sooner rather than later, the wearable gear you buy doesn’t even have a USB port to charge it up, thanks to this research.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.