A future world where cellphones don’t rely on batteries — the ones that always seem to die at the absolute worst possible moment — sounds rather idyllic. This fantasy might not be too far off. Turns out, human skin can power technology.
Researchers from the National University of Singapore have created a flexible sensor that sticks to the arm or neck and uses static electricity to power itself.
Picturing the affects of static electricity might bring to mind images of bundled clothes out of a dryer or hair standing on end from rubbing it with a balloon. These annoyances or alternative hairstyles are a result of what’s called the triboelectric effect. It’s a big word that means certain materials gain an electric charge through frictive contact.
In this case, human skin and the tiny device made up of silicon pillars and a gold plate create the friction, and thus the charge. Engineer Chengkuo Lee and his team designed the generator to harness the charge to turn mechanical energy into electrical energy.
In its current form, the patch works on its own as a wearable sensor to track activity, with the ability to power additional small devices that would ordinarily require a battery. The little sensors pack a powerful punch. A little tap delivers up to 90 volts capable of powering as many as 12 LED lights, according to IEEE Spectrum.
Don’t go tossing all your batteries just yet. The patch is still in its earliest stages of development, but researchers are confident that they can design a similar device for larger electronics. So charging cellphones with a little skin rub down, may be more than just a pipe — albeit bizarre — dream.