Breakthrough technology able to draw power from human tissue alone
When it comes to breakthroughs, this is a big one — Harvard researchers have successfully powered an electrical hearing device that uses a natural electromechanical gradient in inner ear cells.
Translation — you may one day be able to listen to music from your smartphone device via battery-less, Bluetooth earbuds.
Thinking beyond the entertainment factor, the group hopes that the technology will also be able to power technologies like brain implants or hearing aids.
The obvious question here is — how? Without getting too Bill Nye on you, the way it works is like this: nerve cells use the movement of positively charged sodium and potassium ions across a membrane to create a chemical gradient that drives neural signals. Hair cells in the cochlea use this gradient to convert the mechanical force of the vibrating eardrum into electrical signals that the brain can understand.
The researchers powered a device by tapping into this resource by attaching electrodes attached to both sides of a guinea pig’s cochlear hair cell membranes. Attached to the chip was a radio transmitter — after kick-starting the chip with radio waves, the device sustained the low-power transmitter for 5 hours.
The challenge they found was the fact that the amount of voltage they were able to get was, obviously, pretty tiny — just a fraction of what gets generated in a single AA battery. The next step is to develop an electronic chip that contains within it low-resistance electrodes capable of harnessing a small amount of electrical activity—oh, and to do it without damaging hearing.
In the meantime, we recommend everyone continue wearing their Bluetooth, Lithium-ion-powered portable speakers.