Wearable Health Tech devices need new user interface technology. Traditional keyboards and mice don’t get the job done, and even touchscreens can be a problem when there’s limited physical space available. There’s no single “best” solution; different applications are going to require different interfaces for control and interaction. And a given solution may be useful across several — but probably not all — applications. We recently came across a novel new approach that doesn’t require batteries for its operation.

Researchers at Chongqing University in China have developed a system that mounts on the temples of standard eyeglasses, as described in an article in Science Advances. Small, flexible domes rest against the user’s skin, and register when the person’s eyes blink. The cool part of the design is that the domes can harvest energy from the blinking motion using triboelectricity (also known as static electricity). The device generates sufficient power to drive a wireless transmitter that can transfer a signal to an external device. This signal could then be used to control an IoT connected device, such as a smart home switch for a lamp. The researchers also used it as a hands-free computer keyboard control, allowing a physically impaired user to select letters from a screen.

The controlling software is capable of distinguishing between involuntary blinks and intentional ones. This could lead to a range of applications, from hands-free answering of a cellphone call to acknowledging an alert from a wearable Health Tech device. The fact that the system doesn’t need batteries or to be recharged could make it more convenient for people to use, and it could be used to harvest energy from other body motions besides eye blinks, such as walking or even movement from breathing.