Thanks to work into the imitation of natural systems to solve problems, the Biomimetics Laboratory at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute is harvesting the latent energy of human motion into power for other uses.
The team is committed to creating new technology through biomimicry, and has developed electronics solutions for artificial muscles made of stretchy rubber that can be made into sensors, power generators and actuators.
Flexible electronics woven directly onto the artificial muscles themselves eliminate the problems faced by early prototypes of bulky external circuitry, making the Auckland research group ahead of world research counterparts.
"We've developed a soft, flexible, low-cost human power generator," says Iain Anderson, who lectures in Mechanics of Materials and Engineering Mathematics. "They are light, form-fitting, silent energy harvesters which have excellent mechanical properties that match human muscle characteristics, and are able to harvest energy from environmental sources with much greater simplicity than previously possible.Ours are so compact that in the future they can easily be incorporated into clothing where they could harvest energy from the wearer's movement."
The technology means the artificial muscle has mechanical properties similar to human muscle and is capable of generating electricity when stretched.
The team is also developing a finger sensing glove that anticipates the position of the human body and aids movement that can control the position of a computer mouse cursor on a computer screen to play a simple game. The glove has rehabilitation, sporting, and gaming applications.
"Our team, with support from the University's commercialisation company Auckland UniServices Ltd, is working on soft dexterous forms that interface seamlessly with living creatures and nature in general. The variety of applications for this technology is widespread but includes soft robots and prosthetics," Dr Anderson says.
Source and top image of Dr Anderson with Prince Charles: University of Auckland