Powered by people - How TI is helping to harvest energy from humans


 You wake up in the morning and get ready for your daily jog: workout clothes – check. MP3 player – check. Compact human-powered energy harvesting system? While it may be a mouthful to say, this energy harvesting system powered by your movements could soon become as essential to your daily workout as a pair of running shoes.

During her second year as a PhD student at the University of Florida, Yuan Rao received a TI fellowship for her research work into a compact energy harvesting system has three parts: an energy harvester that can convert human movements into electrical energy, a circuit that can condition and regulate energy and a battery. The entire system Yuan created is only about the size of a ping pong ball and straps to your wrist or ankle. Yuan collaborated with her University of Florida adviser, David Arnold, and the TI energy harvesting team in Melbourne, Florida, using TI’s knowledge and TI products in her early designs.

The breakthrough innovation in Yuan’s design relates to how it collects the movements people make when they walk, jog or cycle. Up until Yuan’s research, energy could only be harvested in one direction, which is not how people move.

“My device can harvest in multi-directions because the magnetic ball inside the system can move in a variety of ways,” said Yuan. “As long as a person is moving, the ball will roll around and harvest multi-direction energy, so it works well for people because our movement is random.”

Yuan found the product worked best when strapped to a person’s ankle while jogging, but it also still delivered power to the on-board battery when people walked or cycled. The faster someone walked, jogged or cycled, the more energy was produced. Yuan created a fully self-sufficient energy harvesting system that successfully turned human movements into electrical energy that charged a battery.

According to the global information company IHS, more than 14 million wearable technology devices shipped in 2011, with an expected increase in the market by more than 550 percent by 2016. With the increased interest in wearable medical devices, health and fitness equipment, smart watches and reality glasses, IHS estimates 171 million wearable tech devices will ship in 2016, all of which could one day be powered by Yuan’s system.

“The goal of our research is to one day use it for smartphones or other mobile technology,” said Yuan.

“The TI Fellowship helped me finish my degree and the internships helped me gain insight into the industry through my colleagues and their expertise,” said Yuan. “Without the TI Fellowship, it would have taken me longer and been hard to find funding elsewhere to complete this whole project. I’m not sure what would have happened to my project.”

During Yuan’s TI fellowship, she also participated in three internships with TI that fueled the comfort and confidence in her energy harvesting research. After she graduated with a PhD from the University of Florida, she joined TI power as a design engineer. As it turns out, TI helped power her ground-breaking research in more ways than one.

What is for sure – her research could be powering our future every time we take a step.