Researchers are exploring how we could one day use our bodies to power full-fat smartwatches like the Apple Watch or Samsung’s Galaxy Watch.
The lab work to make it a reality is taking place at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where it has a devised a generator that can be built into a smartwatch to harvest energy as your body moves.
To put its generator tech to work, it’s using a metal pole that swings to mimic the action of arms moving. The research has been documented in several academic journals and the project has been running for three years.
Cai Mingjing, one of the researchers working on the smartwatch generator acknowledged one of the biggest challenges faced with making this idea a feasible way to power smartwatches. He cited the problem, “The low frequency of human motion results relatively low energy conversion efficiency.”
To solve that problem, his project has included a magnetic component in its generator setup to amplify that human motion to make it a useful energy harvesting solution. Mingjing claims its generator offers ten times more energy production than similar products on the market.
Swiss watchmaker Sequent has launched two kinetic-powered hybrid smartwatches
Activity performed while wearing the generator will also influence how good a job it does of beefing up power reserves. So hitting the gym will give you more power than sitting at your desk tapping away on a keyboard.
Crucially, the research team believes its generator could be an affordable option coming in below $13. It says conversations have already taken place with a view of getting this into devices.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the idea of kinetic powered smartwatches, as companies and researchers have sought to solve a problem that still plagues smartwatches. It’s something that no doubt still puts some people off from wearing one.
Some ideas have gone beyond the research stage and made it into smartwatches you can buy. Like the Sequent Supercharger 2 hybrid smartwatch, which uses movement to power up the hybrid.
The Matrix PowerWatch uses body heat to generate the power to keep it running
We’ve also seen alternative ways to offer that self-charging smartwatch life. Like the Matrix PowerWatch, which uses body heat as an energy source to keep you away from the charger.
Solar power continues to be the most popular option with Garmin most recently adding it to its latest Fenix and Instinct watches. That though is an additional power source and you will still need to charge it up unless you constantly live outdoors in the sun.
Swiss company Manufacture Modules Technologies, who has helped build hybrid watches for Frederique Constant and Mondaine has been working on a solar-based solution for hybrid watches for the last few years as well.
Ultimately though, a lot of the work, Matrix aside, has been focused on offering that self-charging for hybrid smartwatches. This latest research could make it possible for proper, full-fat, feature-rich smartwatches where many struggle to last for more than a few days.
It’s an exciting prospect and hopefully a smartwatch future that could be realised sooner rather than later.