Microfluid device powers phone by walking

Years ago the high point of trainer technology was, without question, LA Lights.  Kids in playgrounds stared in awe at the magic of the trainers which illuminated at the fall of every incandescent step.

But now a group of scientists have developed a method which could go one better.  The researchers have devised a way to generate energy from walking that could mean you’d be able to power your phone directly from your shoes. 

While developments are at rudimentary stages at this point, it could be possible to power your devices just through taking a few steps.  Quite what a pair of Nike’s will look like with a mini-USB hanging out of the back is another question, but we can’t wait to find out.

The researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are not looking at piezoelectrics to generate energy, but what is known as ‘reverse electrowetting’.

Basically this works by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy using a “micro-fluidic device” which consists of thousands of liquid micro-droplets.  These micro-droplets then interact with a novel nanostructure substrate.

While energy is usually lost as heat when walking, it could be possible for the technology to convert it into up to 20 watts of electrical power.

According to the scientists Tom Krupenkin and J. Ashley Taylor it is possible for a human to generate up to a kilowatt of energy when sprinting.

And so the team believes that it would be possible to make the jump to powering more energy demanding devices, whereas energy harvesting has previously managed to support low energy calculators or watches.

The team hopes to commercialise the method, starting a company called InStep NanoPower.

Admittedly the US may not be the best place to flog any type of device which relies on human motion, but Krupenkin and Taylor reckon there are many ways they can implement the technology.

For example, a soldier carrying 20 pounds of batteries to power communications equipment, night vision goggles and so on would benefit from such energy harvesting technology.

Alternatively the device could allow users to power a wi-fi hotspot for a phone, without having the handset attached, yet reducing energy needed for a wireless mobile device.

They reckon it would be possible to cut power requirements to mobile phones substantially by doing this, meaning that a smartphone could last ten times longer. We shall see.