Charging your mobile phone battery may soon be little more than a walk in the park.
The Auckland Bioengineering Institute's Biomimetics lab has built electric generators that can harness the energy of movements such as running and walking, which they hope will soon be able to power personal devices.
"When you walk, you flex your legs and strike your heel on the ground, and you swing your arms. The rubbery heel is used to buffer the impact with the ground. Imagine if you could take that buffering, that energy-absorbing bit, and use that in a positive way," said associate professor Iain Anderson, head of the Biomimetics lab.
A normal shoe dissipates energy as heat when it hits the ground. This technology uses thin stretchable generators to turn mechanical energy into electrical energy.
The idea, originally from US research institute SRI International, has been developed by the Kiwis into smaller, lightweight generators to allow for more comfortable, practical energy generation.
"Before we started doing what we are doing you had to have quite a big high voltage power supply and complicated switches. We have eliminated that big bulky stuff so you can put it into a shoe," said Dr Thomas McKay, who worked alongside Anderson in the Biomimetics lab.
They hope to be able to convert the technology to real, practical uses within the year, using the energy of movement to charge SMARTPHONES, iPods and heart rate monitors for athletes.
"We are moving into a world where we have all these extra capabilities and wearable systems – we'll need some way of powering these wearable systems," said Anderson.
Two former students of the Biomimetics lab have already moved into a world where the technology is useable and MARKETABLE.
Ben O'Brien and Todd Gisby, Anderson's former students, have used the same mechanical structure to build artificial muscle sensors that measure and record human body motion, and started a company called StretchSense. The company sensors are soft, lightweight and stretchy so they don't interfere with natural movement."The whole artificial muscle technology is all about working with people and not getting in the way," said Gisby.