Future Smart Wearables Could Be Powered By Your Body

A thermoelectric power generator worn as a ring from Xiao Lab

Smartwatches, rings, and other wearables could be powered by the wearer’s body if research reported by SciTechDaily is any indicator. The technology would, presumably, be limited to small gadgets. But would essentially utilize the body heat generated by the wearer, converted to power. Summarily, keeping the device powered up as long as it’s being worn.

What would body-powered wearables look like in the real world?

The technology explored by the researchers, working out of the University Of Colorado at Boulder and led by Jianliang Xiao, utilizes thermoelectric generators. Those convert heat generated by the body, creating around 1-volt for every square centimeter of contact with the body. With the technology being worn touching the skin, as shown in associated image and video.

The technology is also scalable. A person taking a “brisk walk” with a device about the size of a sports wristband would, researchers calculate, would generate about 5 volts of electricity.


That energy would be more than enough to power most modern wearables. But the real breakthrough for Jianliang Xiao and his team is in the form-factor their research has produced. Body-powered wearables-related technology has already been done before. But the team’s technology effectively works like electronic skin. So, not only is it thin and flexible enough to potentially be more feasible than some previous attempts. It’s also self-repairing.

If the device tears, the team indicates, the broken ends can be held together and will seal back together. The process would only take a few minutes. Processing used devices can offer a high rate of reusability too. A solution can be created that will separate all of the components while dissolving the polyimide base used as a framework. So the technology could be 100-percent recyclable, under the right conditions.

When do researchers expect the technology could be ready for primetime?

Perhaps most promising is the fact that the technology is so flexible and, according to the researchers, cheap. So it could be used in a plethora of wearables without driving up costs. And that only serves to make technologies based on the research more feasible. Although further research is still needed, Jianliang Xiao believes devices based on the research could be ready for market in five to ten years.

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