Wearable devices have become a large part of how we live our lives — from phones and watches to wireless health monitors and more — and will undoubtedly remain so. A major pain point in using and maintaining a variety of devices, however, is how to keep them properly powered. Charging numerous devices every day can be cumbersome and inconvenient, especially when the battery runs out. A team of researchers at the National University of Singapore have developed a solution: technology that allows a single device to wirelessly power other wearables, using the human body as a medium for power transmission.
Their research is a first among existing solutions for electronic wearables. Not only does their system capitalize on the wearable nature of the devices by utilizing the human body, but it is also able to harvest unused energy from typical home and office electronics to power the wearables. While conventional charging methods are limited by the distance power can be transmitted, the path the energy can travel, and the stability of energy movement, this new approach provides sustainable power with a receiver and transmitter system that uses what is normally an obstacle.
A user simply needs to place a transmitter on a power source, such as a smartwatch, while multiple receivers can be placed anywhere on the body. The system then harvests energy from the source and transmits it to multiple devices via a process the team has called body-coupled power transmission. Experiments have shown that a single fully-charged power source can power up to ten devices for a duration of over ten hours. Complementary sources of power, like the parasitic waves from a running laptop that we’re exposed to all the time, are also scavenged and harvested from the ambient environment by the system’s novel receiver.
The method and research pave the way for smaller, battery-less wearables — eliminating some of the most expensive, bulkiest components. If the NUS team’s research becomes standard, it has the potential to eliminate the need for batteries and enable manufacturers to both miniaturize and reduce costs. The increased room for innovation could well lead to a new generation of wearable applications that have been constrained by being too bulky or inconvenient to power, like ECG patches, gaming accessories, and new remote diagnostic tools. With their successful demonstration of the technology, the NUS researchers now hope to continue to increase powering efficiency so, in the future, the network power demands of all your devices can be satisfied by your own phone.