Wearable technologies, such as smartwatches, have grown in popularity in the last few years, largely because of the health monitoring features they offer to users. In fact, economists say the wearable technology market may nearly triple over the next few years, driven in part by a growing focus on personal health brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to researchers at the University of Massachusetts -- Amherst, however, wearable technologies have some limitations in their current configurations. Chief among those limitations is the need for wearable technology to be taken off a body and charged, which limits the data the technology can gather about a person’s health. Researchers are looking for ways to overcome this problem turning to a strange source: human skin.
"Why can't we instrument daily objects, such as the office desk, chair and car steering wheel, so they can seamlessly transfer power through human skin to charge up a watch or any wearable sensor while the users interact with them? Like, using human skin as a wire. Then we can motivate people to do things like sleep tracking because they never have to take their watch off to charge it," said Sunghoon Ivan Lee, assistant professor at Amherst’s College of Information and Computer Sciences.
Researchers published a framework for their plan to use human skin as a conductor for wearable technologies in Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. Specifically, their framework provides theoretical support for a device, called ShaZam, which was tested on 10 people. Their findings suggest that the device was able to produce .5 to 1 milliwatt of current, which, while not powerful enough to power complex tools like an Apple Watch, is a promising step in the right direction.
"We imagine in the future as we further optimize the power that's consumed by the wearable sensors, we could reduce and ultimately eliminate the charging time," said Jeremy Gummeson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Amherst and a collaborator on the study.