Cardiac pacemakers save countless lives, but their batteries only last so long. That's why researchers have been looking for ways to avoid costly and invasive battery replacement surgery which is currently performed on a patient every 5 to 10 years. We've already heard about a rubber film that could harvest energy from walking and even breathing to power pacemakers, and now another group of researchers is pinning its hopes on an even more obvious source of power—the heart itself.
EurekAlert reports that engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have developed blueprints for heart-powered pacemakers using a ceramic layer that expands and contracts to generate enough energy that it might one day eliminate battery replacement surgery:
Karami and his colleague Daniel Inman, chair of Aerospace Engineering at U-M, have precisely engineered the ceramic layer to a shape that can harvest vibrations across a broad range of frequencies. They also incorporated magnets, whose additional force field can drastically boost the electric signal that results from the vibrations.
The new device could generate 10 microwatts of power, which is about eight times the amount a pacemaker needs to operate, Karami said. It always generates more energy than the pacemaker requires, and it performs at heart rates from 7 to 700 beats per minute. That's well below and above the normal range.
From electricity-generating sneakers to piezoelectric backpacks, the idea of harnessing human motion to generate electricity has been much hyped. But there can be fewer more elegant, and more important, uses than to harness the bodies own rhythms in order to help keep those rhythms going.