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This stretchy, recyclable device turns the human body into a battery

In a concept straight out of The Matrix, researchers have developed a wearable device that uses the human body as a battery.

The device, developed at the University of Colorado Boulder, is designed to be flexible and stretchy, so it can be worn against the skin as an accessory. It uses the natural heat produced by the body and converts it into electricity.

“In the future, we want to be able to power your wearable electronics without having to include a battery,” said Jianliang Xiao, senior author of the new paper, in a statement.

Currently, the device only generates a small amount of power — around 1 volt of energy produced per square centimeter of skin covered. So you won’t be charging your laptop from a discreet ring device just yet. But future developments could find a way to convert more of the body’s heat and use it to recharge electronic devices.

Scientists have been interested in wearable thermoelectric generators for a long time, and various types have been developed over the years. Previous attempts to achieve something similar included creating a T-shirt that worked as a generator, but this wasn’t very efficient as it wasn’t always in direct contact with the skin. The advantage of the newly developed device over previous versions is that it is stretchy and can heal itself from minor damage such as tears, making it more robust and comfortable to wear.

“Our design makes the whole system stretchable without introducing much strain to the thermoelectric material, which can be really brittle,” Xiao explained.

Another focus of the new device is its environmental friendliness. It is designed to be recyclable, by submerging the device into a solution that will dissolve the base and separate the electrical components so they can be reused.

“We’re trying to make our devices as cheap and reliable as possible, while also having as close to zero impact on the environment as possible,” Xiao said.

And the basic concept of the device is to make use of body heat that would otherwise be lost, essentially making use of a power source we already have. “The thermoelectric generators are in close contact with the human body, and they can use the heat that would normally be dissipated into the environment,” he said.

The research is published in the journal Science Advances.

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