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A new portable generator can power wireless sensors



A Caltech researcher named Wei Gao, an assistant professor of medical technology, has developed a range of inexpensive wearable sensors and methods to supply them with the human body. Powering portable sensors has always been the biggest challenge. Batteries are an option, but not ideal because of their bulk and lack of charge.

Gao developed a new method of powering wireless wearable sensors that extract kinetic energy that a person creates while they are moving. The energy harvesting ability is achieved using a sandwich of materials containing Teflon, copper and polyamide. The material is attached to the person’s skin. When the material webs rub against a sliding layer made of copper and polyamide, small amounts of electricity are generated.

The effect is known as triboelectricity and is illustrated by the static electric shock a person receives when walking on a carpet and touching a metal button. The triboelectric generator is also known as a nanogenerator and is attached to the trunk of the wearer. The slider slides against the stator during human movement and generates electrical current.

The nanogenerator Gao and his team use commercially available flexible circuits. The material is cheap, durable and mechanically robust over long periods of time. The generator cannot generate any significant amounts of electricity. Researchers say it would take you 1

00 square feet to power a 40 watt lightbulb.

However, portable sensors have low power requirements. The electricity can be stored in a capacitor until the sensor has enough charge to take a reading and send the data wirelessly to a mobile phone via Bluetooth. The more the user moves, the more data the sensor can collect. Even seated users can accumulate enough power to operate.


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