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Body Heat Power  (Source: Image via Fraunhofer)
Future electronic devices could be powered by body heat alone

For mobile professionals, poor battery life from a device is the ultimate enemy to staying connected on the go. Everyone wants longer battery life from phones, laptops and cameras.

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen have teamed up with scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM and the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research IFAM to devise a way to power electronic circuits by using body heat.

The researchers were able to construct a method of turning body heat into electricity using the same principal as thermoelectric generators (TEG) made from semi-conductor elements. TEGs extract electricity from the temperature difference between a hot and cold environment.

Researchers from Fraunhofer say that typically a temperature difference of several tens of degrees is needed, but that the temperature difference between the body and the environment is only a few degrees.

That means that with such a small temperature difference, the amount of electricity generated is very low voltage. The TEG can deliver 200 millivolts when most electronics require one or two volts to operate.

“We combined a number of components in a completely new way to create circuits that can operate on 200 millivolts,” says Peter Spies, manager of this sub-project at the IIS. “This has enabled us to build entire electronic systems that do not require an internal battery, but draw their energy from body heat alone.”

With all the current recalls on batteries from Nokia and the huge recall last year of Sony made notebook batteries, alternative methods of powering electronic devices are a huge area of research. Whether this body heat power technology works or not, it is only a matter of time before consumers can stop depending on batteries and move to fuel cells and other methods of getting power for electronic devices.





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The Matrix has you
By SandmanWN on 8/21/2007 4:42:49 PM , Rating: 3
Wasn't the same concept used by the machines in the Matrix?

AI developing faster by the day. Machines powered off human bodies. We're doomed!!! [/kidding]

On the other hand... I guess my wrist watch won't die until I do with this technology.




RE: The Matrix has you
By GhandiInstinct on 8/21/2007 5:04:21 PM , Rating: 2
They used us as batteries.


RE: The Matrix has you
By masher2 on 8/21/2007 6:15:22 PM , Rating: 1
> "They used us as batteries..."

Just so. Unfortunately, that was without a doubt the most scientifically ridiculous part of an otherwise great movie.


RE: The Matrix has you
By Scorpion on 8/21/2007 6:27:27 PM , Rating: 2
How so? Every living organism is an energy conversion device. It's been a while since I saw the movie so I don't know how in depth they tried to describe the process of "using us as batteries", but the more vague they were then the better off they were it claiming it.

Living creatures are constantly converting energy and giving off excess in some form. Why would it be unreasonable for a higher intelligence to develop a way to tap into that energy? Couldn't you say that everything that gives off energy is a source? It's only in the details of how you go about converting that energy from one form (the unusable) to another (the usable) that is the key. So I'm not entirely sure why exactly you found that so scientifically ridiculous. Unless I missed how they exactly described some method which violates some scientific postulate.


RE: The Matrix has you
By lemonadesoda on 8/21/2007 6:48:03 PM , Rating: 3
The point being made, is not that it is scientifically impossible, but that it is scientifically a very inefficient approach. Much easier and much more efficient is to brew alcohol or manuf. gases and use these as energy sources.

The Island's concept of using humans for "body parts" is a much more plausible and scientific approach to the misuse of humans.


RE: The Matrix has you
By Scorpion on 8/21/2007 6:57:55 PM , Rating: 3
Ok that's what I was trying to get at. I was waiting for the response. If the point was really on the efficiency of the conversion. The energy input required to "farm" the humans and even to produce the "food energy" required to keep them living would probably be much greater than the output. But it's a Sci-Fi movie and they can simply say that the machines have discovered more efficient ways of harnessing that power. :)

As other methods of deriving energy then yes you could argue that their resources would be better used converting energy that required less input and yeilded more output. Without sun you're really limited in energy sources and chemical energy is the most viable.

If the machines didn't need us for energy then it wouldn't have made for much of a movie about enslaved humans. :) It is just a movie after all.


RE: The Matrix has you
By LogicallyGenius on 8/23/2007 4:18:25 AM , Rating: 2
I cant wait for chairs that generate electric currents as we seat on them. COOL it.


RE: The Matrix has you
By smitty3268 on 8/21/2007 7:28:33 PM , Rating: 2
That bugged me every single time I watched the movie - using humans for power is inherently inefficient, because our bodies are using the inputs for lots of other stuff, like keeping us alive. Still, it made for a great story.


RE: The Matrix has you
By Xenoterranos on 8/21/2007 11:24:17 PM , Rating: 2
And you call yourselves nerds!
During the initial reveal by Morpheus, it is mentioned that the robots are powered by a combination of human batteries and "a form of fusion". So there, science prevails!


RE: The Matrix has you
By smitty3268 on 8/22/2007 12:39:48 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, I know. In the 3rd movie they say that the machines can survive without the people but it just wouldn't be pleasant. But if they have fusion, then why do they need the humans again? Presumably there's some reason that it can't provide them enough power, but choosing humans for their boost just seems stupid. They've got to be feeding us with some sort of biological food substance - wouldn't simply burning whatever they're giving us be more efficient than feeding us, maintaining our bodies, and creating the matrix to contain us? Anyway, it's science fiction and they had to come up with some sort of way to explain the background story. Maybe they've genetically engineered us to live by feeding us plastic waste products, or something... Sure they could have gotten bacteria to do it, but they wanted to humiliate us.


RE: The Matrix has you
By smitty3268 on 8/22/2007 12:40:41 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry, I guess that was actually the 2nd movie, wasn't it.


RE: The Matrix has you
By Samus on 8/22/2007 3:01:46 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
> "They used us as batteries..."


quote:
Just so. Unfortunately, that was without a doubt the most scientifically ridiculous part of an otherwise great movie.


I couldn't agree more. Why use us when you have far better and simpler alternatives from nuclear sources?

But the point of the machines using us was to PUNISH us. The only debatable arguement for that was they saved us by keeping us alive. The matrix they created is a pretty pimp place if I do say so myself ;)


RE: The Matrix has you
By djc208 on 8/22/2007 2:25:23 PM , Rating: 2
I always wondered, if they had the technology to grow humans artificially, and were as smart as they say they were, then why not just genetically engineer a biomass that just generated power. A giant electric-eel type organism that didn't require the massive computing power that running the matrix would have required. Engineer it to give off hydrogen as a byproduct and the thing will produce energy and fuel at the same time!

But to get back on track, I would think this would work for wrist watches and the like but I don't know if I see it being of much use in cell phones or the like yet. Might get MP3 players that low.


RE: The Matrix has you
By bigleadpipe on 8/23/2007 9:17:53 AM , Rating: 2
I think the wrist watch would be the first use for this technology since the temperature differential would be the greatest on your arm since it is exposed most of the time.

They could probably design something like the arm warmers used by road bicyclists or a long sleeve T-shirt to capture that energy. Runners could power their electronics on cool days by using running tights with the same technology.

This would be great for all athletes when training in the winter months where the temperature differential would be the greatest and you always needd to carry lights while exercising in the dark. "Body Powered Headlights"


RE: The Matrix has you
By 3kliksphilip on 8/22/2007 5:21:55 AM , Rating: 2
We use animals as batteries (Eating them, getting hamsters to run on wheels for electricity etc). In Quake 4 people are used as batteries. It's in our every day life and nobody ever notices!


RE: The Matrix has you
By otispunkmeyer on 8/22/2007 6:56:15 AM , Rating: 3
its a sci-fi movie it doesnt have to make any sense or follow any scientific rules or anything like that....thats what makes the movies science fictional. it'd be boring as if all the rule of physics were obeyed.

he couldnt learn how to do ju jitsu in 10 seconds or fly or move faster than a bullet.

its like people who go see transformers then come out saying "bay is an idiot, how believable are big giant robots! what was he thinking! so unrealistic.... "


RE: The Matrix has you
By glitchc on 8/23/2007 5:45:34 PM , Rating: 2
What makes a good sci-fi movie is not the depart from reality, but the consistency with which that depart is conducted.

Some rules cannot be broken however. For instance, if a basic rule such as causality is violated without any explanation, the audience quickly stops being entertained by the movie.

Neo may have been able to unrealistically learn jujitsu in 10 seconds, but the movie provides a clear explanation of "plausible" technology in a "plausible" future, which, carefully note, maintains causality. If he, instead, was able to perform jujitsu without any prior source of knowledge, people would instantly lose interest.


RE: The Matrix has you
By excrucio on 8/21/2007 5:24:29 PM , Rating: 1
There will never be an AI smart enough to revolutionize its capacity to learn of humans, unless a human person programs that, which is nearly impossible.

It's all fiction AI's will never have the capacity to be more powerful than us.


RE: The Matrix has you
By A5un on 8/21/2007 6:00:14 PM , Rating: 2
"Everything that can be invented has been invented." – Charles H. Duell, Comissioner of the US Patent Office, 1899.

Well, look at where we are now.


RE: The Matrix has you
By Scrogneugneu on 8/21/2007 7:25:26 PM , Rating: 2
There will never be any human beings flying, unless a human person grows wings, which is nearly impossible.

It's all dream and we will never fly like the birds do.


RE: The Matrix has you
By Ringold on 8/21/2007 7:42:00 PM , Rating: 2
"Never" is a very, very long time.

Given what we can do to plants, and given that we'll probably create new life from scratch relatively soon, I'd say adding wings and the structural changes to accomodate them are just a genetic tweak and a gaping ethical chasm away.

Not that it'd be easy, or legal anywhere except New Kansas in Rigel, but never's a long time and humans simple creations in the scheme of things. Isn't the rate of innovation in modern history nearly exponential anyway? Could be closer than we imagine.


RE: The Matrix has you
By smitty3268 on 8/21/2007 9:20:15 PM , Rating: 2
I think that you completely missed the point of that post, which was clearly sarcastic. As in, people have been flying in planes for decades.


RE: The Matrix has you
By smitty3268 on 8/21/2007 7:35:38 PM , Rating: 2
There's plenty of research going on about how to make an AI learn things on it's own and draw conclusions from cause/effect. If the hardware ever gets powerful enough I have no doubt computers will blow us away (figuratively, i mean) - the real challenge is in what we think is really simple, like recognizing a spoken word or object in a picture. People are inherently good at things like this because we wouldn't be able to get around in the world if we weren't.

What you're saying is basically that there will never be a computer able to beat humans at chess because a human would have to program it to begin with.


RE: The Matrix has you
By oTAL on 8/22/2007 5:48:17 AM , Rating: 2
By that logic, humans would never be able to construct a computer that could play chess better than the guy who programmed it...
Guess what... it doesn't work like that! There are many strategies for programming and when your programming AIs it's pretty normal that you are surprised by some of the emergent behaviours.


Heat to electricity?
By Lonyo on 8/21/2007 7:02:07 PM , Rating: 2
I dunno about you guys, but my laptop gets hot when I use it.
Hot? That means it produces heat.
This tech turns heat -> electricity.
So, uh, yeah.
See where I'm going? Lets use this to turn the heat produced by our laptops back into electricity to power them!




RE: Heat to electricity?
By FastLaneTX on 8/21/2007 7:44:05 PM , Rating: 2
The key point is that you have to have a temperature difference for this to work, not just a high temperature. For the cold side to stay cold when there's a substantial difference (like car exhaust or a CPU), you need to have air flowing across a heat sink fast enough the radiated heat doesn't ruin the temperature differential. This is achievable for powering something like an iPod strapped to your arm while jogging, but it probably wouldn't gain you much for a laptop that's sitting on your 98.6F lap indoors...


RE: Heat to electricity?
By Samus on 8/22/2007 3:08:54 AM , Rating: 2
Yea, but the temperature difference he mentioned from the laptop that runs at 50c+ at load is far greater than the delta we create, even if we're jogging to increase our body temperature.

There are alternatives, such as Timex biowatches that generate their power through our arms, although in the form of electrons of static electricity instead of heat) but heat is a far more stable solution.

However, the idea of this technology is to power low voltage devices (in the 200mV) range. Those devices will never generate enough heat to power themselves because they must run at no more than a few watts to be without battery or some sort of capacitance.


RE: Heat to electricity?
By oTAL on 8/22/2007 5:52:13 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
Those devices will never generate enough heat to power themselves because they must run at no more than a few watts to be without battery or some sort of capacitance.


No device will ever generate enough heat to power itself.
However, you could use wasted heat to gain back some of the used power, as in the laptop case.


RE: Heat to electricity?
By mindless1 on 8/22/2007 6:12:44 PM , Rating: 2
For any substantial gain in runtime it would be much larger, much heavier, much more expensive. Instead they could just throw a few more cells into the battery pack and have a superior product. Some things that are theoretically possible are not so marketable.

I'm not even sure why this is news, generating power from low heat levels was existing tech, though seldom used since you can't get much done with a few mW of power and anything more is not so convenient or practical for a portable application, especially considering that electricity to charge a battery isn't too hard to find.


This technology should be developed further
By MrBungle123 on 8/21/2007 7:06:31 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder how much power something like this could get out of places with extreme temperature differences like the air and the engine block/exhaust system on cars... couldn't we (theoretically) retrieve atleast some of the 60 or so percent of the power that is lost to heat from buring gasoline in our cars? We could couple that with some sort of hybrid system to gain more power, mileage, or both.




By vectrex 411 on 8/21/2007 8:52:40 PM , Rating: 2
Great idea, was patented in 1998, several patents exist for harvesting energy using the "Seebek Effect" (the reverse of Peltier Effect) - conversion of thermal energy to electrical power. Nissan in 2001 patented a whole conversion system for the automobile, unfortunately the current technology utilizes a bismuth - telluride matrix which only produces an efficiency of 10%.


Matrix
By adam92682 on 8/21/2007 4:41:20 PM , Rating: 2
wont be long before the machines use this to take over




Steam Punk
By OxBow on 8/21/2007 4:49:33 PM , Rating: 2
I can't shake the feeling that these alternate power schemes have a sort of Rube Goldberg/Steam Punk feel to them. Didn't the OLPC iniative look at pull strings and hand cranks for power. The idea or filling up the fuel cell on my laptop like I fill the gas tank on my lawnmower just strikes me as wrong. Not that I don't think the idea is a good one, it just seems to grate against my general proclivities as to how things should work.

Then again, if such tech works easily and cheaply, my sesne of right and wrong can be easily won over by the power of the almighty dollar.




Adult Industry
By bhieb on 8/21/2007 4:51:07 PM , Rating: 1
Well since they pioneer everything else. Think of the implications on all those saved AA batteries in the porn industry. I can only assume the higher body temps would make this a much more efficient power source. :)




RE: Adult Industry
By SandmanWN on 8/21/2007 4:54:39 PM , Rating: 1
LOL Unmentionable self-powered pleasure devices, they just keep going and going and going... :P


Refining old tech
By Spyvie on 8/21/2007 5:16:44 PM , Rating: 2
This is an impressive refinement of the same very old tech that keeps the pilot safety valve open on your gas furnace, and converts heat to current in a simple nuclear battery.

The thin brass colored part in your furnace that is impinged upon by the pilot flame is called a thermocouple or a thermopile. Thermocouples generate 24mv when a 400f temp difference is maintained between the hot and cold junctions. A thermopile, used to power the entire control circuit of some gas appliances, is a self contained series of thermocouples generating up to 750mv when the proper temp difference is maintained.

I don’t know much about nuclear batteries other than they use thermocouples.

Sorry to bore everyone with useless facts, I just want to make sure everyone knows that the same basic concept has been in use for a long time. Sort of like this post: http://www.dailytech.com/Implatantable+Nanogenerat... Where they are essentially using a refined version of the sparker for your BBQ. Obviously in both cases the tech has been refined, but the basic concepts have existed for years.




so then.....
By marvdmartian on 8/22/2007 9:36:19 AM , Rating: 2
......if they could build this technology into a seat cushion, then hot, sweaty people could really make a killing on the energy market, couldn't they?? ;)




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