Smart electronic devices are becoming very popular, but charging them can prove problematic. South Korean scientists say they have developed an energy-generating fabric that can power a range of devices. Just tapping the fabric – known as a wearable triboelectric nanogenerator – can power devices such as, for example, a remote control for cars or a light-up badge. Professor Kim Sang-Woo led the research at Sungkyunkwan University.
People try to remove static electricity in daily life and attempts to use it as an energy source were quite limited. That's why we started this research
“People try to remove static electricity in daily life and attempts to use it as an energy source were quite limited. That’s why we started this research, to use static electricity as an energy source,” he says.
The layers of silver-coated textile rub against an organic polymer film. The researchers have shown the electricity created from this friction can power lights, screens – and more.
“With this energy, we can power Light Emitting Diodes and Liquid Crystal displays without an external power source, as well as demonstrating low-power devices like sensors,” says Kim Sang Woo.
The developers see their ‘smart’ fabric connecting people to the everyday products they use.
“If technologies for the Internet of Things develops more in the future, various sensors could be attached to human skin. The fabric could be an independent power source for those sensors,” suggests the professor.
The foldable fabric is much more wearable than a bulky battery. So charging your phone as you walk could be a step closer to reality.
From smart fabric we turn to smart sensors. Imagine a floor that lights up when it is walked on. Finnish researchers at the VTT company are developing ‘smart’ sensors connected to the environment to send information directly to a smartphone. The developers say the sensors can be used for guided lighting, burglar alarms and even a baby monitor.
“What we are seeing here is people being detected walking in the corridor. That is based on depth cameras. We are using the detections to control lighting in the corridor so we can guide the people to the places they are going to,” says research scientist Esa-Matti Sarjanoja.
The trend to connect to our surroundings with smart devices, known as the Internet of Things, is fast-growing. The company says the technology could also be used for security purposes. For instance, an LED lamp could be put into burglar alarm mode, sensing movements by intruders in the home and sending notifications to a smart device throughout the day.
Some other uses include putting smart sensors in baby monitors. The company’s prototype smart dummy gathers information about the baby’s temperature, breathing and nutrition and sends the information to a smartphone.
In sturdy Finland babies are often left to nap outside, even in freezing temperatures. Parent Soledad Peresin says she will be using the system regularly.
“I can monitor her temperature, her body temperature, the temperature outside if there is a sudden drop on the temperature. I can go and bring her inside and also it gives me information about her suction pressure. When you know your baby well enough to know the suction pattern you know when she is about to wake up as well,” she says.
The company is keen to expand the use of its smart sensors in light fittings with colour changing, dimming and beam-steering properties. They see the sensors being used for a variety of lighting solutions from energy-saving street lamps to self-adjusting interior lighting.