For every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take… You need to consume energy (oh, and The Police will be watching you, too, I guess).
But did you know that you also invariably have to put it back out into the world? It’s a physics thing called the law of conservation of energy. Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. You may vaguely remember it from physics class.
Today, we are constantly looking for energy sources, whether it be from fossil fuels, solar power, wind energy, hydroelectricity, nuclear reactors or the many other sources in the world. But modern technology is allowing scientists and engineers to come up with ways to capture your body’s energy output and use it to do some pretty practical and cool stuff. That is, without turning you into a Matrix-style energy generation system.
Heat of the moment
Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology University (KAIST) have created a wearable device that generates electricity from temperature difference between your body and the air around you. This thermoelectric generator is made of lightweight, flexible material, which makes it comfortable to wear. However, its current organic construction means it has a low power output, something the engineering team at KAIST is working on. While the first goal was medical application for objects like hearing aids and pacemakers, the next goal is to use it to charge smart phones, according to the Daily Mail.
I like to move it, move it!
Engineers at Princeton University have created a device similar to KAIST’s thermoelectric generator. Wearable and meant for smaller gadgets, the small chip of rubber and ceramic nanoribbons generates electrical energy from being flexed, or even when pressure is applied. With the way we use phones and computers these days, putting one of these things on our hands could probably power our phone for days.
The University of California San Diego has developed a temporary tattoo that uses the lactate in sweat to generate an electric current. Like the last two pieces of technology, the fact that it’s worn is a huge advantage with the same range of applications. You’ll be able to power anything from pacemakers to smart phones, and all you have to do is sweat a little.
You light up my life.
In case powering devices with sweat weren’t cool enough for you, there’s a flashlight that is powered simply by the heat of the human hand. That’s right. You do the one thing with a flashlight that you’re supposed to do and it turns on, just like that. Cool, right? It gets better. This device, called the Hollow Flashlight, was designed by a 15-year-old girl in Canada named Ann Makosinski, and it won the Google Science Fair in 2013.
Is it just me, or is it hot in here?
According to BBC, Jernhusen, a transportation real estate company in Sweden, has developed a way to use the body heat of commuters in Stockholm’s Central Station. Excess body heat from commuters is collected in heat exchangers in the ventilation system and used to heat water. That hot water goes to a nearby building called Kungsbrohuset where it is used to heat the building. While that only accounts for about five to 10 percent of the office building’s overall heating requirements, it is definitely an interesting form of energy conservation.
Walk it out.
So you’re out hiking, but you don’t want some terrifying 127 Hours kind of situation. Good news. Bionic Power has your back, err… legs. The company’s first product, the PowerWalk M-Series, looks like a pair of athletic knee braces. In reality, it’s a bionic energy harvesting technology that can gather enough power in just one hour of walking to power four cellphones. This shouldn’t be surprising, however, because the technology was created in collaboration with the Canadian and American militaries. One can imagine that a pair of these bad boys, which weigh all of 3.4 pounds combined, would be incredibly valuable in military operations (or, you know, that hike).
Some pep in your step.
In 2007, two MIT graduate students came up with the idea of designing floors which generate electricity from mechanical pressure (more technically known as piezoelectricity). It’s called “crowd farming,” and for every step it generates enough power to turn on two 60-watt light bulbs for just one second. Right now, it just exists in a few dance floors around the world, according to How Stuff Works, but what if it were on a New York City street? A combined 28,500 footsteps could power an entire train for one second. While the technology isn’t efficient or inexpensive enough to be used expansively, it has the potential to harvest a massive amount of human energy.