A breakthrough in technology means wearable devices and other fitness products could soon be self-powered.
Scientists from Loughborough University and the University of Surrey have created a unique device based in triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), which generate electricity from motion – in much the same way static electricity is produced.
The technology could allow the development of small, flexible generators that convert movement into electricity – providing free and unlimited energy.
Until now, using TENGs has been incompatible with many day-to-day electronic devices due to their inability to produce a constant current.
The team of researchers from the two universities, however, has found a way to produce a direct current (DC) from a unique TENG design, creating a steady flow of electricity and opening up the potential for real-world applications.
Led by Dr Ishara Dharmasena of Loughborough's School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, the team has been working on the project since early 2016.
"The main drawback of TENG, to date, has been discontinuous and unpredictable outputs," Dharmasena told FitTech magazine.
"Because of this issue, we can't use TENGs to directly power electronic devices – you need additional circuits to manage the current and, sometimes, batteries to store electricity. This meant the effectiveness and applicability of the technology in real life situations was drastically reduced.
"The breakthrough was that, instead of using a single TENG device to generate a discontinuous current signal, in this new design, we're using a collection of TENG units to directly produce a DC current signal, which is a current output similar to a regular battery.
"This way, we can get rid of additional electronic circuits, batteries and directly use TENG devices to power practical applications."
Dharmasena adds that the technology could revolutionise a number of fitness, sports and health products.
"It could be very useful in the next generation of wearable and implantable electronics, which measure fitness and healthcare information," he said.
"Another special feature of TENG is that it can act as a self-powered sensor. In other words, a sensor that can generate its own power to provide information like movement, position, etc.
• To read a full-length interview with Dr Ishara Dharmasena, in which he reveals more how TENGs could be used in fitness and wearab;e technology, click here for Issue 2 2020 of FitTech magazine