UCLA Develops Human-Powered Medical Wearables

Medical wearables could generate power from body movements using a soft and malleable generator invented at University of California.

Callum Cyrus

October 11, 2021

2 Min Read

Soft sensors for medical wearable devices could soon generate electricity using the motions of the human body.

A soft, flexible self-powered bioelectronic device that converts human body motions into electricity has been created by a team of bioengineers at the Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The magnetoelastic generator is the size of a U.S. quarter and produces a magnetoelastic effect that generates electricity as body motion triggers microscopic magnets affixed to a silicone matrix. The power can come from bending an elbow to subtle movements like the pulse from a wrist.

Metal alloys can also produce static electricity from the body to power devices, but their rigid nature doesn’t allow them to bend sufficiently to sit snugly around the skin, limiting the electricity they generate.

However, the university’s silicone material is designed to be soft and highly malleable. It’s also built to withstand sweat on the skin and humid weather conditions.

The device generated four times more than metal alloy equivalents and good enough potentially to generate power from the human pulse, according to the university.

As wearable devices become more varied in functionality, there’s more pressure on internal batteries, particularly in healthcare, where long-lasting operation may be a necessity.

Increasing the size of the battery presents a trade-off with limiting the form factor of the end device, as larger dimensions risk deterring the end user.

A patent for the magnetoelastic generator has been filed by UCLA’s technology transfer body the UCLA Technology Group with the aim of commercializing the fundamental technology.

“Our finding opens up a new avenue for practical energy, sensing and therapeutic technologies that are human-body-centric and can be connected to the Internet of Things,” said Jun Chen, an assistant professor of bioengineering at UCLA Samueli who advised the initial study.

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