Every time I pick up a smartwatch or fitness tracker out if its pristine box, rip out the packaging and locate another one of those proprietary charging cables that’s ready to be lost, it’s always the same. Not another one. I cannot wait until someone can come up with a kinetic powered wearable.
Essential reading: What wearables will measure in the future
Movement powered tech is the Holy Grail. Ditching the batteries in favour of using our own movement to fuel the step counting and the power hungry displays is something I’m sure all tech companies aspire to achieve.
The notion of harvesting energy this way though is by no means a new idea, that’s for sure. It’s been part of the tech agenda for years, but its uses have not been groundbreaking by any means. Flashlights including things like the Million Mile Light immediately spring to mind.
But it feels like it could be the perfect partner for wearable tech. Battery life is a major wearable gripe so what is holding it back? There’s multiple reasons: the solution is often too big or they don’t have the right level of power intensity just to name a couple.
No real movement
When we first approached the subject of self powered wearables, Misfit CEO and electro-chemistry expert Sonny Vu summed up the current stance.
“Power is probably the single largest engineering challenge for the world of wearables and connected devices,” he told us. “Someone has to deal with this. So, we build everything with power management in mind. We don’t have any special sauce apart from the fact that we’re really obsessed. We power manage to death. We just don’t think that people like to charge things.”
So where is that first motion powered wearable going to come from? We thought we had our first one when the Element1 smartwatch appeared on the Indiegogo scene with a kinetic battery that meant it never needed to be charged. The Florida based company was unsuccessful it its attempt to raise $1250,000. It was probably for the best. It never did explain exactly how it was all going to work.
The crowdfunding success Ampy Move, a motion powered battery for wearables is finally going out to backers. But that does mean you still need to slap a wearable battery to your arm and, judging by some of the backer responses, it might not be as sleek as it looks in the pictures.
So it looks like it’s still down to those bright minds in labs or in colleges and universities to find out how to make our movement powered wearables a reality.
Step in the right direction
Researchers at the University of Southampton, England do appear to be making great strides with an insole that can collect kinetic energy and use it to power small devices like wearables. Unfortunately those devices need to be in close proximity of the insoles, so that pretty much rules out smartwatches. But it could be a good fit for an Under Armour connected running shoe style device.
Speaking to Cnet, the team has apparently sounded out Adidas, Brooks and New Balance about the technology it’s working on. It appears that immediate future of the kinetic powered sole though lies in the medical industry.
Apparently the solution could be moved higher up the body to work with a wrist worn wearable but it would be necessary to transfer the insole brains into clothing relying on the vibrations in the fabric when you move.
Smart clothing for the masses feels closer than it has ever done but the tech inside largely focuses on being able to track physical activity. It could hold the key to bringing movement power and wearables together.
A team in at the University of South Korea has already been developing a smart material made up to two layers of fabric that when rubbed together as they move produce something similar to what we get with static electricity.
Creating a small current it was capable of powering an array of LEDs and a keyless car remote when the user moved his wrist.
The problem with both of these examples is that these are still ideas at their earliest form. A kinetic powered Fitbit or Apple Watch really does remain a distant pipe dream for now.
That won’t stop me pining for one though. Just think, what better motivation could you have to keep up your step count or actually pay attention to those inactivity alerts instead of remaining slumped at your desk?