Wearable electronics seem to be the inevitable next thing in mobile devices. Devices like Google Glass, smart watches and fitness trackers are already ushering in this new wave of personal gadgets. But instead of plugging in those electronics to charge them, what if just wearing them was what powered them?
A team of researchers at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed an ultra-thin, flexible and bendable technology that can will make that possible. What makes this thermoelectric technology stand out from others that have been developed is that it's both flexible and has a high power output, where other types were only one or the other.
KAIST says that this technology, which consists of a thermoelectric generator printed on a thin glass fabric using a screen printing technique, has ten times the power output of similar generators. The glass fabric acts as both a upper and lower substrate, getting rid of the extra weight that those require and allowing the generator to have a higher power output.
KAIST explains, "When using KAIST's TE generator (with a size of 10 cm x 10 cm) for a wearable wristband device, it will produce around 40 mW electric power based on the temperature difference of 31 °F between human skin and the surrounding air."
"Our technology presents an easy and simple way of fabricating an extremely flexible, light, and high-performance TE generator. We expect that this technology will find further applications in scale-up systems such as automobiles, factories, aircrafts, and vessels where we see abundant thermal energy being wasted," says Professor Byung Jin Cho, the lead researcher on the project.
It may be years off, but in the not too distant future, we may never have to charge our personal gadgets again.