New breakthrough could lead to body-powered wearables

A team of researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) may have overcome one of the biggest hurdles facing wearable tech devices if they are to go mainstream — poor battery life. Even the biggest fans of Google Glass complain that the headset can only go roughly eight hours before the battery dies, and if the camera and video are in use, then that time falls drastically to one-to-two hours at best. Likewise, the first generation of Samsung smartwatches came in for criticism for having a useful life of less than a full day.

However, the KAIST team, led by Professor Byung Jin Cho, think they may have come up with the answer, and no, it’s not a huge backpack stuffed full of lithium ion cells. Rather, they have developed a patch made from glass fabric that, when applied to the skin, like a sticking plaster, produces electricity from the difference in temperature between the human body and the surrounding air.

Extremely light and flexible it can be bent to follow the contours and shape of a wrist or even a finger without impeding its performance. In essence it is a tiny thermoelectric generator, the component parts of which are printed onto glass fabric and which come into contact with the skin via the glass fabric’s mesh structure.

Professor Byung Jin Cho said of the generator: “Our technology presents an easy and simple way of fabricating an extremely flexible, light, and high-performance TE generator. We expect that this technology will find further applications in scale-up systems such as automobiles, factories, aircrafts, and vessels where we see abundant thermal energy being wasted.”