PVA-Based Triboelectric Generators Hold Promise for Self-Powered Wearable Medical, Consumer Tech

Ultra-thin wearable generators can harvest power to monitor heart health — and, in the future, power everything from HMIs to AR sensors.

A team of scientists at Purdue University, the University of Akron, and the Luleå University of Technology have released a paper describing self-powered wearables for cardiovascular monitoring — pulling in data about the wearer's heart health without external power sources.

Monitoring heart health through traditional echocardiogram or photoplethysmography is common, but not particularly comfortable for the patient under observation. “These technologies can often be invasive to patients and have not yet been adapted into wearables for personalized on-demand monitoring," explains project lead Assistant Professor Wenzhuo Wu. “TENGs with PVA blend contact layers produce fast readout with distinct peaks for blood ejection, blood reflection in the lower body, and blood rejection from the closed aortic valve, which may enable detection of common cardiovascular diseases such as cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease and ischemic heart disease.”

“The PVA-based TENGs show great potential for self-powered biomedical devices and open doors to new technologies that use widely deployed biocompatible materials for economically feasible and ecologically friendly production of functional devices in energy, electronics, and sensor applications," says Wu. “We transform PVA, one of the most widely used polymers for biomedical applications, into wearable, self-powered triboelectric devices which can detect the imperceptible degree of skin deformation induced by human pulse and capture the cardiovascular information encoded in the pulse signals with high fidelity."

The wearable works by combining polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) with triboelectric generators in a patch which adheres to the patient's skin and conserves mechanical energy — turning into electrical power. While the initial focus was on monitoring the heart, Wu claims the same technology could be used to power other biomedical devices for health monitoring, human-machine interfaces, teleoperated robotics, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) systems, and even consumer electronics.

The work has been published under closed-access terms in the journal Advanced Materials; its creators, who patented the technology through Purdue, are currently searching for partners for commercialisation.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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