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Movie-inspired liquid metal tech converts human movement into electricity

Professional Engineering

A Purdue University team created wearable technology to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy (Credit: Wenzhuo Wu/ Purdue University)
A Purdue University team created wearable technology to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy (Credit: Wenzhuo Wu/ Purdue University)

Robotics, wearable sensors, augmented reality headsets and more could be powered by wearers’ movements thanks to new energy-harvesting liquid metal technology.

Inspired by robotic liquid metal technology in films, such as the relentless T-1000 in Terminator 2, a team led by industrial engineer Wenzhuo Wu at Purdue University in Indiana eventually arrived at the technology that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.

“Our work presents an important step toward the practical realisation of self-powered, human-integrated technologies,” said Wu.

The team invented a liquid-metal-inclusion based triboelectric nanogenerator, called LMI-TENG. Triboelectric energy harvesting transducers – devices that help conserve mechanical energy and turn it into power – are predicted to be a $480m market by 2028, according to IDTechEx.

The LMI-TENG consists of a layer of liquid metal-embedded functional silicone sandwiched between two Ecoflex layers. It can harvest and sense the biomechanical signals from the body and use those to help power and direct technological devices.

“Our technology will enable wearable electronics to take otherwise wasted energy and transform it into energy that can power and control electronic devices and tools used in military defence and consumer applications,” said Wu. “Our technology allows the synergistic engineering of triboelectric nanogenerator components at the material, structural and output levels.”

The engineer said the technology could have applications in many emerging technologies, including wearable sensors, pervasive computing, advanced health care, human-machine interfaces, robotics, user interfaces, augmented reality, virtual reality, teleoperation and the Internet of Things.

The research was published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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