The future of mobiles: powered by a heartbeat
2007-07-26 0:00


Scientists have developed a generator that can produce electricity from vibrations, Richard Gray reports

Mobile phones could in future be powered by their owner's beating heart after scientists developed a generator that can produce electricity from vibrations in the surrounding environment.

Initially developed for use in industrial machinery, the -scientists are now tweaking the design so it can be used to power pacemakers off a beating heart. It would allow patients to avoid surgery to replace batteries in their pacemaker.

However, researchers also hope that they will eventually be able to use the highly-efficient generators to power other portable wireless devices, including mobiles and MP3 players. It would mean that mobile users could charge their phone by simply keeping it in their breast pocket near their heart.

Steve Beeby, a reader in electronics at Southampton University where the generator has been developed, said: "There is a big drive towards using wireless devices, but one of the challenges in supplying power to these devices is that batteries have a finite supply that needs to be replaced. We have a spin-out company that is now looking at powering pacemakers from the movement of the heart.

"As the power consumption of electronic devices continues to fall, the opportunity to use these devices to power them becomes more apparent. The potential is there for devices like mobile phones and MP3 players being at least augmented by vibration generators. There is quite a lot of energy available on a human such as the impact of a heel on the floor which could also be used."

The miniature generator works on the same principles as a kinetic powered watch, which uses the movement of a coil between magnets to produce an electrical current.

The researchers at Southampton and their company Perpetuum have found that they can tune the device to a particular frequency of movement so it will produce far more power than the devices found in watches.

Mr Beeby added: "The -problem with humans is that they really don't move around that much at the kind of frequency needed to generate a sufficient amount of electricity. But we can tune our generator so that it can make the most of that resonance."

The researchers are also hoping to use their technology to scavenge energy from the vibrations of bridges and roads. Paul Lee, the director of technology, media and telecommunications at business consultants Deloitte Research, said: "There are two strands of development in the mobile phone industry which are to either cram as many power hungry applications into a phone as possible or to make a phone as efficient as -possible.

"It is in the latter category that power scavenging can really help, and while it may not completely replace -batteries, it can be used to help supplement power. In the developing world this kind of device will be particularly attractive. Using body -movement is one way of doing it, but there are other devices that aim to use body heat."

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