If you have to stop and recharge your wearable all the time, you’re more likely to stop using it. Back when wristwatches first became popular (after World War I), the invention of a self-winding watch became a big hit as they used the wearer’s movements to power the timepiece. Wearables need a similar solution to eliminate recharging and battery changes.

Researchers at Georgia Tech may have a solution. Energy harvesting from light sources — solar cells — has become commonplace in some applications. And we now have materials that can harvest energy from motion. The news from Georgia Tech is that they have developed a fabric that generates electricity from both light and motion. Using standard textile machines, the researchers were able to weave plastic fibers that convert light energy, along with “triboelectric nanogenerators” contained in fibers. These generators can create electricity from mechanical motion such as rotation, sliding, or even vibrations.

In addition to application in smart garments, the fabric could also be incorporated in window shades or even fabric structures such as tents or canopies. More work needs to be done to determine how durable this material can be in actual use, but it has potential to produce significant power. This could make a range of wearable applications more practical by reducing or eliminating the need for outside power sources.