Energy harvested from body, environment could power wearables, IoT devices

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11 August 2014 | 0

Low-power wearables may soon bid adieu to batteries and start drawing energy generated by body heat and movement, and ambient energy from the environment.

Consumer electronics devices are getting smaller but conventional batteries are not, and it’s important to start implementing new energy harvesting techniques to keep devices powered for long periods of time, researchers said at the Hot Chips conference in Cupertino, California, on Sunday.

Energy harvested from body heat, motion and ambient light could be used in medical implants, monitoring sensors and disposable medical patches, said Yogesh Ramadass, lead design engineer at Texas Instruments, during a presentation at the Hot Chips conference.

The technologies are still emerging, but the chip performance and energy efficiency of some wearables are reaching a point where it has started becoming “convenient for us to replace the battery and replace it with ambient energy,” Ramadass said.

Harvest
Energy harvested from the body and environment is in the microwatt range, so it can’t be used for smartwatches or fitness trackers, which draw milliwatts of energy, Ramadass said.

“You shouldn’t be thinking about a regular wearable devices like FitBit, smartwatch or others,” Ramadass said in an interview on the sidelines of the show.

Smartwatches have displays and software that can drain batteries, while energy harvesters are better for wearables that collect and transmit bits of data at specific intervals.

Self-powered devices could make an impact in the context of the Internet of Things, said Massimo Alioto, associate professor at the National University of Singapore.

There will be billions of Internet-connected devices supplying real time information in the coming year. Data-gathering instruments today are designed around the size of batteries, and self-powered devices could resolve some power and size issues, Alioto said.

The researchers said that energy harvesting technologies could be relevant in smoke detectors, alarm sensors, smart meters and even remote controls.

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