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Powering our wearables in the future

The question is not whether digital innovators will create every possible kind of wearable people have ever imagined. From something that is strapped on, stuck on, tattooed on, a pendant, clip, pacemaker, patch or apparel (including heated shoe soles for snow climates!), their creation is already happening.

The question is how will tomorrow’s wearables be powered?

Whether for medical reasons - such as Neil Harbisson with his 12-inch metal antenna (now with Bluetooth) that allows Neil to listen to colour via bone conduction in his otherwise totally grey world - or for lifestyle reasons - the human race are loving wearables. Watches, fitbits, glasses, implants, we are well on our way to future gadgetry becoming part of our everyday lives.

The limiting factor of all these wearables is how they will be powered. Batteries and power consumption are just as much part of the conversation because batteries take up space. The design has to take in to account how the device will be powered and how often. So as energy efficiency improves, scientists are looking into futuristic ambient energy for future devices, so that innovators can consider a wider range of power options in design.

Ambient power sources seem to fall into these five major categories:

  1. Photovoltaic – from light
  2. Thermovoltaic – from heat
  3. Piezoelectric – mechanical stress
  4. Electrodynamic – from vibration/movement
  5. Biological – from what is there organically, such as fat or sweat

Option five is a little … ewwww. Perhaps if your actual life depended on it, sure, biological sounds fine … but to power a wearable we choose for a lifestyle by sweat? We’re not ready. Yet.

The more accessible idea is the technology expected in the next couple of years called photovoltaic  textiles described as: “Where we can wear clothing that converts solar or kinetic energy to power a simple system that monitors, say, calories burned on a jog.” 

That sounds a little more pleasant for those playing at home.

One thing we agree on is that we don’t love big batteries or having to recharge all the time – so we in marketing wait with anticipation on what science will deliver in the near future.

September 08, 2014
Caroline
Herrman

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