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Devices Powered By Your Body Could Change The Way We Think About “Natural” Energy Sources

Photo courtesy of Bods via Flickr

How charging your cell phone through the soles of your feet is about to become a reality.

If Fred Flintstone could power his car through his feet, why can’t we power our cell phones through ours?  With each passing year, we get closer and closer to body powered technology becoming reality.

Bodies in motion

Technically speaking, our bodies are machines that convert potential chemical energy into electric, thermal and kinetic energy.  Because of this, scientists and inventors have been looking for ways to harness energy produced from the heat, sound/vibration, and movement of our bodies for hundreds of years.

As far back as the 1770s (pdf), automatic or self-winding watches using motion have been in use.  Designed to actually wind themselves, they use an oscillating weight that moves up and down as their owners walk, working on the same principle as modern-day pedometers.

Take a hike

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Photo courtesy of Hamed Saber via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic.

Now it appears that foot power is going to allow us to do more than just create distance. A company called SolePower has a prototype in the works consisting of a power-generating shoe insole using a heel-strike mechanism (pdf) for charging small, portable electronics.

According to SolePower, the device works by inserting the insole into your shoe and then plugging it into a small battery attached to your shoe or ankle.  After that, all you do is walk.

Once charged, you can unplug it and use it to charge mobile devices. A 2.5-mile hike with the waterproof and weather resistant insert will recharge an iPhone.

After being successfully funded with the help of Kickstarter, SolePower aims to have the product out between June and December 2014.

They aren’t the only company examining green methods for powering external devices. Other companies like Orange are also working on boots that use your body heat to produce energy.

More green technology

Body-powered devices are on the rise.  Recently, MIT and Harvard Medical School have been experimenting with energy produced by the inner ear for monitoring conditions such as hearing loss and powering internal medical devices.

At the University of Michigan, a team is investigating the possibility of harvesting energy from your heartbeat to operate a pacemaker, thus eliminating the need for future surgeries to replace dead batteries.

Body heat is also behind the technology at TEGwear, another company hoping to have their products on the market by 2014.  They use a small chip that, when touching the skin, generates enough power to run small devices.

The catalyst

The creators of SolePower say the driving force for tech like this was for use as a lifeline in developing countries where power sources are often scarce, rather than for techies and environmentalists.

It’s easy to imagine that technology using harvested energy – such as SolePower or TEGwear – would be useful in regions prone to natural disasters.

The future

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Photo courtesy of edwin.11 via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic.

In Paris, their recent attempts at harvesting body heat from Metro passengers for warming a public housing project has been so successful, it has inspired the English to explore ways to divert heat from the London Underground to 500 homes in nearby Islington.

Power-scavenging projects like these with reusable energy save money and reduce Co2 emissions every year. It might be noted that none of these efforts are in response to climate change. They are in response to trying to find ways to save money and use the untapped resources readily available to us already.

Have you ever used body powered technology? Tweet us about your green experiences @curiousmatic.

Rebecca West