Future medical wearables could be powered by body heat

Don't expect your sweaty morning run to juice your smartwatch.

Researchers at NC State think that they have developed a new way to harvest body heat and turn it into electricity. The team has developed a patch that's roughly a centimeter squared, that would attach to a person's bicep. The device would then be able to generate anything up to 20 Microwatts, a significant increase on previous technologies. It's not enough to power a smartwatch, but it's possible that it may be enough to juice a medical sensor, reducing the number of bulky cables a patient has to trail around them.

The patch creates electricity by using the difference in temperature between your body and the air that surrounds it. The heat is pushed through a wearable thermoelectric generator and the hardware itself is just two millimeters thick. The team also developed a version that would integrate into a t-shirt, and while the gains were less impressive than on the bicep, could take up much more real estate than on the upper arm.

MC10 is a wearables startup that was borne out of research by medical wearables pioneer John Rogers. The first generation of its body monitoring technology is thin, but the biggest component by far is the battery. If, however, such hardware was able to generate the power locally, you'd instantly eliminate the need to add-in expensive and bulky power cells. That would, hopefully, have the knock-on effect of reducing the cost and complexity of body sensors. Let's hope that NC State's researchers can