Wearable Technology Uses Wearer’s Body Heat

Health monitors powered by the wearer’s body heat may soon become a reality. A group of North Carolina State University researchers had received a grant from the National Science Foundation in 2012 to use nanotechnology to develop devices that could harvest and store energy from body heat to power low power sensors.

Many people who buy battery powered wearable, use these devices for some time only to throw them in their drawers or discard them altogether, mostly because of the hassle with the battery. It presented a special challenge for embedded developers.

The team was working on two technologies. Health sensors to measure biochemical, bio-electrical signals and environmental sensors to measure temperature, particulate matter and gasses. Tom Snyder, who is industry liaison for the team, recently unveiled an asthma monitor at the Consumer Electronic Show 2015. The device was activated and also powered by breath. He says that in the future, it may be possible to predict asthma attacks as much as 24 hours before.

Any device developed on the principle (using body heat as a power source) must have practical applications. It must be small, it must use minimum power and it should be able to transmit data with regularity. The team is already working on a device that will tap both thermoelectric energy as well as kinetic energy. In its upcoming annual review, the team will demonstrate an armband electrocardiogram capable of sending data to an aggregator using thermoelectric power.