In the future, dancing the night away may be just as good a way to charge your iPhone as plugging it into a traditional outlet. That's because scientists have devised a way to power handheld electronic devices simply by flexing a tiny stack of microchips — something that could be achieved through the movement of a human body part or organ. Soon, they theorize, those chips could be implanted in your body, and your pumping heart could act as an effective battery. Here, a brief guide to the technology:
How is this possible?
For years, a group of Georgia scientists have been working with nanogenerators — tiny chips made of zinc-oxide wires that produce a buzz of electricity when stretched or strained. Until recently, these devices were capable of putting out less than one volt of energy, not enough to have any real-world application. But researchers have been able to drastically increase the chips' power, and a stack of them, one on top of another, can now produce three volts — equivalent to the power emitted by two double-A batteries.
And they'd put these in my heart?
Since the nanogenerators are so small, they can theoretically be embedded in almost anything — a piece of clothing, a shoe, or even... the human body. Five hundred wires are the width of a single human hair, so "it’s conceivable that you could have them implanted inside your body, so that, say, every time your heart beats you can power your handheld device," says Nicholas Deleon at CrunchGear.
When could this happen?
Researcher Zhong Lin Wang estimates that the first models (but sadly, not the heart implants) will be out in three to five years, according to an American Chemical Society press release. For now, he is focused on increasing the output of the devices, and finding a manufacturer to produce them commercially. "Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future," he says. "Their potential is only limited by one's imagination."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 10 things you need to know today: September 21, 2014
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- California's epic drought
- The week's best editorial cartoons
Subscribe to the Week