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Be Your Own Battery

From The University of Auckland Biomimetics laboratory comes SoftGen – wearable energy harvesting technology that converts the latent energy in human motion into power, capable of delivering a charge directly to a device a person is wearing.

This is achieved with advanced “dielectric elastomer generators” (DEGs), or artificial muscles. DEG’s are made from soft stretchy materials that can produce energy when they are deformed, the sort of energy that can power a heart monitor, wristwatch or an I-phone in the future.

Whilst artificial muscles have been around for some time, in the past they’ve required rigid and bulky external electronics to generate power. The break-through made by The University of Auckland biomimetics lab was to eliminate the need for external circuitry, by integrating flexible electronics directly onto the artificial muscles themselves.

“Imagine soft generators that produce energy by flexing and stretching as you move,” says Stephen Flint, Commercialisation Manager for Biomechanics at UniServices. We’ve called it smart control,” explains Stephen, “it’s revolutionary IP.”

Associate Professor Iain Anderson adds, “We’ve developed a soft, flexible, low-cost human power generator. They are light, form-fitting, silent energy harvesters which have excellent mechanical properties that match human muscle characteristics, and are able to harvest energyfrom environmental sources with much greater simplicity than previously possible.”

“One of the most exciting features of the generator” says Stephen, is that it’s so simple; “it consists of rubber membranes and carbon grease mounted in a frame.”

“The more SoftGen technology develops, the less you’ll have to worry about the battery powering your cell phone or other portable electronics dying on you. It’s better for the environment too”, adds Stephen, “this should help keep batteries out of landfills.”

Back in the lab, Dr. Anderson and colleagues are further developing soft dexterous forms that interface seamlessly with living creatures and nature in general. The variety of applications for this technology is widespread but includes soft robots and prosthetics.

“We are in discussions now which could see the SoftGen technology licensed and in commercial development in certain industries very soon.” says Stephen. “The applications for SoftGen are huge”.

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