As wearable technology gets more popular and smart clothing gets… smarter… one major challenge is going to be how we are going to power all this stuff! Sure, a glow in the dark LED snowboarding suit is cool, but the last thing you’d want to do is have to plug your smart jacket into an outlet to charge it up! Energy harvesting is going to become a much larger industry in the coming years, mark our words. In fact it’s estimated go grow from $605m in 2010 to $4.4bn by 2020! Check out some interesting clothing integrated energy harvesting possibilities for how you will be able to charge your wearable tech using the sun, heat, and good vibrations!
Harvest Those Good Vibrations
Piezoelectric vibration sensors are a mouthful to say but are already in use today in Nike’s smart shoes (not pictured) that wirelessly link to your phone or fitness tracker (like the Nike+ FuelBand perhaps…) and track your steps and speed. These sensors use constant movement to generate current to power a wireless link. They are particularly useful in running shoes where there is a lot of constant motion, but can also be woven into clothing to form a fancy capacitor that will store energy to power your devices. For a lower tech solution there is also the nPower PEG which harvests kinetic energy and charges an internal 1000mah battery that can be plugged into numerous devices to provide completely green energy!
Heat It Up With Thermal Sensors
Thanks to something called the Peltier effect, sensors can be placed around your body and detect the differences in your body heat to generate a current. By now most of us know you can get more power out of a dead battery by sticking it under your armpit for a while and heating it up. That isn’t the Peltier effect… that’s just gross. However, these thermal sensors can generate a current not only from your body heat, but from the difference in temperature on the inside and outside of a garment! These ‘thermopiles’ can already generate up to 2mW when walking around, which won’t charge your iPhone but is more than enough to power a health monitoring device or trickle feed some other piece of tech. These sensors can even be washed and ironed without having to worry about breaking them.
Solar Power To The Rescue
While themopiles and fancy vibration sensors are great for trickle feed a wireless connection or a low energy consumption piece of tech, sometimes you just need some serious energy production! This is where solar cells come to the rescue, and thanks to advances in flexible solar cells they can now be added onto clothing, jackets, backpacks, and more quite easily and even (dare we say it) stylishly! New solar cells have an increased efficiency so that they can generate power even from indoor lighting ‘low light’ conditions. And thanks to the advances in flexible lithium ion batteries that can be woven into clothing now, they can provide enough power to actually charge and power cell phones, LEDs, music players, and more.
As our clothing gets smarter and our energy needs get higher and higher, we can expect to see these new methods of harvesting energy becoming more common place. There’s no reason why these technologies can’t be used in tandem either, so before you know the days of plugging in your smart phone may be over and the days of being a living breathing energy generating power plant may be upon us!