Tiny wearable transforms friction to energy, might power devices

It seems no one is really interested in creating long-lasting batteries anymore.

Instead, everyone’s more focused on how to reduce the energy consumption of our electronics, as well as on creating new ways of powering the devices we use every day.

One such discovery was presented last week at the IEEE MEMS 2015 conference.

A group of researchers from the National University of Singapore presented a postage-stamp-sized device that uses static electricity and converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.

Basically, it’s a device that’s strapped onto a person’s skin, and uses the friction created to make electricity.

This device can generate 90 volts of open circuit voltage, and power of 0.8mW when touched gently with a finger. This could light up twelve commercial LEDs.

Electrical and computer engineering professor Chengkuo Lee and his colleagues demonstrated that the new device can be used as a wearable self-powered sensor to track the user’s motion and activity.

“Skin, the most abundant surface on a human body, is a natural choice for one of the triboelectric layers,” says Lee’s graduate student Lokesh Dhakar.

"Device fabrication becomes simpler because you don’t need to make one of the layers, he says. “Also skin as a triboelectric material has a high tendency to donate electrons or get positively charged which is important in improving the performance of the device if the other triboelectric layer intentionally chosen as the one with a tendency to get negatively charged.”

These friction-powered generators could inspire a new type of technology that doesn’t use a battery, but humans instead.