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No charging: UNT researcher develops wireless fitness tracker

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The latest energy-harvesting technology is being used by an assistant professor at the University of North Texas to develop a wireless, wearable fitness tracker that won’t need to be charged.

“Reverse electro-wetting takes advantage of motion, any motion. For my fitness tracker, that motion will come from a person moving their arms and legs. But, if you think about it, there is motion all around us,” Ifana Mahbub, an assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering Department at UNT, said in a statement. “I envision a future when biomedical devices could take advantage of the movement within an individual’s body. Imagine a pacemaker powered by electricity generated from one’s own heartbeat.”

What is reverse electro-wetting? According to a statement, it works by compressing and decompressing a liquid between two plates.

Typically, reverse electro-wetting isn’t considered the best method of converting kinetic energy to electrical because the power generated is very low, particularly for low-frequency movements such as walking. But for this project, Mahbub is taking advantage of the high surface area created by using porous plates and developing a miniaturized integrated circuit that could increase the amount of power available by 50 times, according to a statement. That’s more than enough to power a small, mobile device or sensor.

“I believe the reverse electro-wetting concept, like other sustainable energy-harvesting methods, will play a key role in the future of mobile devices,” Mahbub said. “And, it is especially important to people, like me, who never remember to charge their Fitbit.”

Russell Reid, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, is a co-principal investigator on the project.

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