A team of researchers from Northumbria University, UK, developed a way to harvest energy from movements we make every day, like turning and twisting, and convert it into electrical energy, according to a study published in the scientific journal Advanced Science.
The authors adapted sensors to use human movements, like bending and stretching, to power wearable technology devices, including fitness trackers and smart watches—most of these devices are self-powered pressure sensors, which can operate without the need for external power supplies.
These sensors are becoming increasingly popular in many devices, such as assessing health conditions or measuring performance in sports. As a consequence, many groups are trying to improve how they work, but it’s still challenging to produce enough energy to power wearable technology. Now a team from Northumbria University collaborating with researchers from the Northwestern Polytechnical University in China have developed a solution.
Their method involves using materials with pre-patterned pyramid shapes to create friction against the silicone polymer in the sensor. This generates a self-powering effect which significantly increases the energy used to power a wearable device.
“This results in a self-powered tactile sensor with wide environmental tolerance and excellent sensing performance, and it can detect subtle pressure changes by measuring the variations of triboelectric output signal without an external power supply. The sensor design has been tested and is capable of controlling electrical appliances and robotic hands by simulating human finger gestures, confirming its potential for use in wearable technology,” explained Professor Tao from NPU.
“This self-powered sensor based on hydrogels has a simple fabrication process, but with a superb flexibility, good transparency, fast response, and high stability,” added Professor Fu, based at Northumbria University.
Professor Jon Reast, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Northumbria University, is delighted with the results coming from this successful partnership with NPU. “It’s fantastic that this research collaboration is proving successful and producing such ground-breaking work. We work closely with more than 500 partner universities, colleges, and schools across the world. Within these, NPU is one of a set of extremely high-quality research-led university partners. The relationship with NPU includes researchers within smart materials engineering as well as smart design and is producing some truly excellent, impactful research in both areas.”
Tao K, Chen Z, Yu J, Zeng H, Wu J, Wu Z, Jia Q, Li P, Fu Y, Chang H, Yuan W (2022) Ultra-Sensitive, Deformable, and Transparent Triboelectric Tactile Sensor Based on Micro-Pyramid Patterned Ionic Hydrogel for Interactive Human–Machine Interfaces. Advanced Science, 9, https://doi.org/10.1002/advs.202104168