Imagine taking all the energy you put out each day-just by moving around-and storing it in a battery so you could use it later. That’s one of the potential applications that researches have in mind at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute in New Zealand. The biomimetics team there is working with something called “soft generators” or, more technically speaking, “dielectric elastomer generators” (DEGs).”
Dielectric elastomers, better known as artificial muscles, move or stretch when electrical current is applied to them. Inversely, they also produce electrical current when they are moved or stretched. The researchers at the Auckland Biomimetics lab have been, like others interested in DEGs, working on a way to harvest the energy these artificial muscles can produce. The problem is the bulky, rigid electronics that they’ve required in the past have prevented a “wearable” application of the technology. According to Thomas McKay, a Ph.D. candidate working on soft generator research at the Biomimetics Lab, they’ve come up with a solution.
The team has developed “flexible electronics” that are soft and pliable enough to be integrated into the artificial muscle itself. The breakthrough could lead these soft generators to be incorporated into clothing in a way that would be virtually unnoticeable to the wearer. If one were to wear an outfit that included these soft generators, their body’s natural movement would activate the soft generators and feed electricity to a battery for storage.
The technology has other potential applications beyond being wearable-these soft generators would be capable of harnessing all kinds of natural, mechanical energy as electricity-but we kind of like the idea of charging up a cellphone by taking a jog or walking down the street.
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