Researchers in Australia and South Korea are developing a fabric that gathers energy from human movement. And tech lovers everywhere are hoping a shirt really could be used to power wearables and smartphones in the near future, ending the problem of low-battery devices forever.
With every new iPhone that’s released, each one touting new features, sleeker shapes, and sharper images, the one aspect of the smartphone that seems to be left out is the battery.
The latest iteration, the iPhone 6, offers around thirty more minutes of battery life than the iPhone 5s, still far from enough to satisfy the critics. In fact, Samsung has been trying to incite an Apple mutiny with ads mocking “Wall Hugger” iPhone users fiending for a charge, according to MacRumors.
But regardless of how long the life of a smartphone battery is, as long as you have to plug in to charge your phone, you’re going to forget and the batteries are going to die. With the addition of the Apple Watch, Apple customers have just been given one more thing to remember to charge once or even twice a day.
Unless someone completely disrupts the way we charge our smart devices, there’s no battery life expectancy that’s going to push one tech brand’s offering over another’s.
Movement and Static
Thanks to the research, as published in ACS NANO being done in South Korea and Australia, that disruption could come within the next decade. Scientists specializing in nanotechnology have developed a wearable, flexible fabric that can create energy from the movement of the person wearing it, lending it immense potential as a renewable, self-charging power source for wearable technology.
The fabric uses two materials, one coated with silver and another coated with rods of zinc oxide that are only nanometers wide.
When the wearer moves around, causing the two materials to rub against one another, the effect is much like that of static electricity: the friction causes one material to steal electrons from the other and create electricity, albeit at a much higher rate than when you pull a fleece sweater off your head in the winter.
The material’s developers have already found practical applications for their most recent experiment. “During testing,” The Stack reports, “the researchers demonstrated the nanogenerator powering a number of devices such as LEDs, a liquid crystal display, as well as a keyless car entry system embedded in a TNG ‘power suit.’”
This smart fabric has obvious potential applications to tomorrow’s wearables, but it’s also the promising beginning of even more ambitious developments. Devices like the Apple Watch already provide brands a more visible platform for accessing consumers — every extra minute that those screens are on customers’ wrists and not plugged into an outlet can be monetized.
What’s more, imagine what benefits a company could reap from investing in technology like this? Executives should always be on the lookout for opportunities to disrupt — when you think about how hard it is to mess with Apple’s stranglehold on smartphones, it’s hard to find an opportunity bigger than this one.