Flexible Thermoelectric Fabric Lets You Power Devices Using Your Body Heat

Heating Up

While researchers tinker away at making us part cyborg — or otherwise enhanced humans — scientists at Purdue University are working to make sure that we efficiently recycle human energy. With a specially designed fabric that can be woven to harness body heat and provide energy to power Internet of things (IoT) devices, the technology could mark a the dawning of a new age in medicine.

Using the flexible thermoelectric generator technology they designed, Kazuaki Yazawa of Purdue’s Discovery Park’s Birck Nanotechnology Center was able to weave semiconductor strings into a fabric. The technology is so precise that it can take heat from any complex surface and converts it into electricity.

Although it’s only a small amount of usable energy, it’s an improvement on existing thermoelectric generators: unlike technology before it, Yazawa’s unique semiconductor strings are far more flexible and easier to manage.

Cooling Down

Yazawa developed a weaving technique that allows the technology to be wrapped to fit any shape to collect excess heat. With that in mind, the revolutionary thermoelectric generator can harness the maximum amount of heat from the human body — or any other source. A capability that eliminates the need for batteries.

Yazawa’s ultimate goal for application is using the technology to power IoT devices, especially in hospitals and sports, two environments where devices are often constantly affixed (and attuned) to people. In hospitals, the new technology could power health devices that monitor a patient after a trauma for vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure. In sports, coaches could monitor an athlete’s performance in real time. The technology can also be used to “cool down” users, since the device uses body heat it therefore converts, it could be used to lower body temperature which could be particularly useful for athletes or members of the military.

It’s also impressive in its sustainability: since the technology completely recycles excess human heat and turns it into a power source for devices, nothing goes to waste.

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