Sci-Tech

In the future, we could charge wearables by chewing

Get set to strap on some piezoelectric headgear to keep all your wearables charged and ready to use.

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Chew faster! We need more power! Smart Materials and Structures/IOP Publishing

Walking around with more devices, whether they're wearables or in your pocket, means more worries about keeping all those batteries charged. But you may not always need to hunt for an open outlet to pump some more juice into smaller devices, thanks to the work of some Canadian researchers. Instead you could just have lunch, preferably something chewy -- and don't hesitate to talk while you eat, too.

The researchers, from the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), an engineering school in Montreal, have developed a chin strap that can harvest energy from jaw movements, including eating, chewing and talking. Results of testing the device were published this week in the journal Smart Materials and Structures.

That's right game addicts, soon you may be able to keep your wireless Oculus Rift strapped to your cranium and stay in the game while you pound down that hoagie and know that you're actually extending your game time while you chew.

The chin strap is made up of piezoelectric fiber composites, a smart material composed of integrated electrodes and an adhesive polymer matrix that creates an electrical charge when stressed by jaw movements. Piezoelectric technology is nothing new -- we've seen similar smart shoes and even a proposal for roads that harness their own vibrations to create power -- but the stretchy power-generating textile is a novel approach that could make sense as we enter the bold new world of wearables.

By the way, we're not just talking about those new, hyped wearables like the Apple Watch or Google Glass. More practical applications might be to use this kind of tech to charge things like hearing aids and cochlear implants. But the researchers say there's still more work to be done before that becomes a reality.

"Given that the average power available from chewing is around 7 microwatts, we still have a long way to go," study co-author Aidin Delnavaz said in a release. "However, we can multiply the power output by adding more PFC layers to the chin strap. For example, twenty PFC layers, with a total thickness of 6mm, would be able to power a 200-microwatt intelligent hearing protector."

A single PFC layer currently costs about $20, which could make a 20 layer strap a little pricey, but the researchers say the device would also pay for itself in a few years by saving users the cost of expensive replacement batteries.

If this takes off, people might go back to using their phones for actual phone calls, if for no other reason than to charge their batteries through gabbing.