Electronics keep shrinking, as “embedded technologies” like microchips grafted to the skin and computer monitor contact lenses have surged over the last decade. But how can engineers generate enough energy to run such mystifyingly compact, yet complex gadgets?
In Smithsonian Magazine’s August issue, an article details how the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—the U.S. Department of Defense agency that helped fund the development of computer networking, the first hypertext system, and global positioning—is trying to deal with the battery problem: Their Energy Starved Electronics program, founded in 2005 with MIT researchers, seeks to utilize the human body itself as the power source. The Wachowski brothers were right!
Anantha Chandrakasan, an electrical engineering professor at MIT, and his former student Yogesh Ramadass are exploring how to channel thermal and kinetic energies produced by the human body into electricity. The team discovered that by applying mechanical pressure to “piezoelectric materials,” they could produce an electric current, which could then be stored in solid-state capacitors on a chip a few square millimeters small and discharged when needed. “Thermoelectric materials” also produce electricity when exposed to two different temperatures (i.e. body heat and the cooler air around it), and could also be placed on the chip.
See the rest of the article at smithsonianmag.com, which also reports that embedded devices may be able to create a virtual environments by 2050.
I end with Morpheus‘ prophetic explanation:
(via Smithsonian Magazine)
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