Researchers at Disney have developed a technology that can generate enough energy from the movement of a fingertip to light a string of LEDs or to control lights or other electrical components on e-paper or printed materials.
The Paper Generator -- developed primarily by Disney Research scientists in Pittsburgh -- relies on the placement of a sheet of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), more commonly known as Teflon, between two thin reactive layers of material like metalized polyester that act as electrodes. Researchers Mustafa Emre Karagozler, Ivan Poupyrev, Gary Fedder, and Yuri Suzuki describe the new technology in this paper. It seems like an energy-harvesting version of touch technologies used in mobile devices. The user rubs, taps, or slides a finger over the materials to generate electricity.
The Paper Generator harvests energy when the user rubs, taps, or slides a finger over a thin sheet of Teflon sandwiched between two thin sheets of reactive material. Invented by researchers at Disney Research, the technology could be used to power small devices or interactive technologies for e-games or displays. (Source: Disney Research)
A key component of the technology is the leveraging of electrets (materials with electrical properties) already used in microphones and MEMS devices. When the reactive paper layer rubs against the Teflon sheet, an electrical charge accumulates. If the electrons move relative to one another against the Teflon -- the action caused by the rubbing or sliding -- it generates a small current that can power a number of devices, the researchers wrote in their paper.
The operation of the Paper Generators relies on the movement of the two conductive sheets relative to each other and the electric field source, i.e., PTFE. As the relative positions of the sheets change, the distribution of the induced charges, the electric field, and the total capacitance between the sheets change, resulting in an electric potential difference between the conductors... Hence, the mechanical movements of the sheets and the field source are converted into electrical potential energy that can do work.
Poupyrev, director of the Pittsburgh interaction group for Disney Research, told us in an email that the Paper Generator can eliminate the need for power sources for some small devices, such as infrared communication devices or LED displays. This would make it easier for designers to add visual and audio technology to printed and e-paper materials. "We can imagine any number of ways to use this to add sights, sounds, and other interactivity to books and other printed materials inexpensively and without having to worry about power sources."
He would not discuss how Disney will employ the technology.
It is common knowledge that our bodies have some electricity but who would have thought our fingers could be used to generate energy and not simply control its flow. Fingers work with energy everyday starting from simple operations like flipping a switch to light a bulb. Now they actually light a bulb using their own energy.
You make a good point, Habib. Laptop batteries have indeed improved a lot over time but I still think they can be better. I recently bought a new Mac that has a two-hour-longer battery life than my old Mac and I definitely feel the difference, but I still could use even more juice sometimes.
As a side note, laptop batteries have improved significantly since the release of 4th Gen processors. Intel claimed that it would increase the battery life by around 50%. Well the 50% case does not remain valid under all situations but yes battery life for laptops using 4th gen processor has increased. I am myself using a 4th gen processor and finally I am satisfied with my laptop's battery life.
A team of researchers from Australia's RMIT University have been working on the concept of everlasting battery, and they think this possible. Their research has focused on studying how much energy can be captured using this method and currently around 1/10th the amount needed to power your average gadget is produced. Their next step would be to figure out on how to amplify the power stored, so it could be useful. So work is being done in the similar lines. It will take some time before this technology actually takes a proper shape but will be worth the wait.
Ann, you make a good point about Disney--I wasn't aware they were involved in much research, either! That alone was news to me. The fact that it's pretty interesting and forward-thinking (as well as environmentally friendly) as well was also a surprise.
That's really interesting, Habib. Are you or do you know of anyone working on this technology? I could see that really being useful, as laptop batteries still drain too quickly for the real power computer user.
There is a similar idea circulating around where power can be generated from keyboard strokes and mouse movement. Piezoelectric crystals can be used for power generation. This can be deployed in laptops and can be used to increase battery's running time.
I think my favorite energy-harvesting stories are like this one: the device requires very little input energy to do something both noticeable and useful. And who knew that Disney was involved in research?
"That sounds like a recipe for a perpetual motion machine. I'm waiting to see the prototype. On the other hand, if you have an idea how I can harvest my 3 boys' excess energy for useful purpose (there is plenty, efficiency is not an issue), then you have my full and undivided attention."
Batter, I had seen similar thing in Chinese toys, but not fully self powered. Toys have some mechanical keys and we have to tight the key for starting. When it performs, the mechanical movements are converting into electrical energy for performing other functionalities like sound, light, obstruct detection etc. The drawback is while performing, the key will rotate in ant-clock wise direction and decreases to zero, where the toy stops. We have to restart the same program.
Researchers have been developing a number of nano- and micro-scale technologies that can be used for implantable medical technology for the treatment of disease, diagnostics, prevention, and other health-related applications.
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