Researchers at the the University of Surrey in the UK are currently working on a new form of wearable technology which once readily available, will allow people to act as the battery for their devices. More specifically, the technology (Triboelectric Nanogenerators - or ‘TENGs’) is largely clothes-based. With the idea being that while someone is wearing the ‘smart’ clothes and walks or moves, the clothes will be using that movement to generate electricity. Which can then be stored or transferred to other devices (mobile phones and Fitbits were specifically mentioned as examples) to power them.
In many ways, the technology works along the same lines as a kinetic watch. Like a kinetic watch, movement is the key as that movement can be then transferred into usable power. Although the difference obviously here is that the power generated is not to self-power a device, but more to harvest that power and have it used to power external devices. In fact, the announcement - which just looks to detail the latest developments of the technology (as it has been in development for some time) - picks up on some of the grander implications of the technology becoming mainstream. For example, while someone can in theory wear a TENG-based shirt, walk around, and charge their smartphone, the researchers explain that in developing countries, this technology could be used on a much more fundamental level, where items like “radios, wireless communication devices, and medical equipment” could be powered by TENG-based clothing.
On an even grander scale, the researchers talk about “TENG networks” which could in theory harness the power of multiple connected TENG items to generate enough electricity to fuel greater power-demanding entities, including households, and at the very extreme end, industrial levels of usage. While this technology is still some time away from becoming mainstream, the researchers seem confident that it will arrive sooner rather than later, with the announcement detailing that store availability of TENGs should start to materialize “within the next few years.” While details on the actual clothing is fairly limited, the announcement does highlight that TENGs are able to be made from a variety of natural fabrics, including cotton and wool. So again in theory, there is nothing stopping this technology from becoming available in a number of different items and styles of clothing.