A team from the University of Florida took inspiration from the popular franchise for a new type of wearable tech. The solar panels are integrated into the woven fabric (image via University of Florida)
Wearable technology is on the rise with the release of smartwatches and accessories like FitBit. But no one has quite gotten the integration of smart tech with clothing just right. There are still several kinks creators run into; bulky batteries, textiles that hold an electric charge, and comfort. One team from the University of Florida is trying their hand at wearable tech and it may be what we’ve been waiting for.
Rather than using chunky batteries, the team created solar power clothing with the ability to store the sun’s energy. They achieved this by making filaments that can be crafted into textiles, which then give them the ability to store and use the sun’s energy. The filaments are made out of flexible copper ribbons equipped with a solar cell on one side and an energy storing layer on the other side. It's a type of "supercapacitor" material. Which is genius, since the cap' can efficintly gather all energy generated from the solar cells quickly. With an entire shirt, let's say, all made of supercap material... the surface area of said capacitor would be enormous. The energy density they claim is 1.15mWh/cm^3 (and a power density of 243 mW/cm^3).
During the testing phases, the team sewed them into a square piece of yarn, which can then be sewn into jackets or other outwear to get energy to power devices, like phones. This new tech improves on the major limitations of solar cells. Traditional cells are limited in their portability since they have to store the energy they produce in battery or have it flow into a power grid.
Believe it or not, the inspiration behind the tech was actually taken from the popular Back to the Future franchise, specifically the self-lacing Nikes from the second film. Along with this, they also had the military in mind. Soldiers overseas are at a risk of extreme exhaustion and heat stroke from carrying over 30 pounds of batteries in the hot sun. This new wearable tech will relieve some of the weight by eliminating the batteries completely.
Aside from being used for the military, the team believes the technology can be used for other things, like electric cars. Because the solar cells can be integrated easily into fabrics, are portable, and don’t rely on chunky batteries, it could be the breakthrough wearable tech has been looking for. Imagine wearing a coat or hoodie with the ability to charge your phone. No more freaking out over low batteries or carrying around battery banks. It’ll be exciting to see what the team can do with the tech in future. For now, make sure to keep your phones properly charged.
Have a story tip? Message me at: cabe(at)element14(dot)com