One of the biggest challenges for wearable Health Tech devices is energy. How will they get the power they need to operate, and how will they store it until it’s needed? The standard solution is to use rechargeable batteries, and then plug the device into a source of electricity as needed. The problem is that recharging can be inconvenient, and works against our prime principle that wearables need to “disappear” into our lives in order to be successful.
We’ve written about fabrics that can turn light into electricity, but a researcher at the University of Central Florida has come up with a new wrinkle on the concept. Associate Professor Jayan Thomas got the idea to incorporate energy storage with solar cell technology in a fabric. He and his team have created a fabric that combines traditional yarn with thin film solar cell devices. On the back of the solar cells, they added supercapacitors to store the electricity that is generated. The energy harvesting and storing components are fabricated using thin and flexible copper ribbons. Using a tabletop loom, they were able to weave a square of fabric that could collect and store energy.
This approach could have wide implications. Rather than carry heavy batteries for supplemental storage, the fabric in a jacket could provide a way to collect energy and then make it available as needed. Our wearable devices could become independent of outside power sources, and truly disappear into the background of our lives.