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A Surprising Potential Method for Powering IoT Devices: Gelatin

One of the most notable ongoing challenges with Internet of Things (IoT) devices is the matter of power. Since many of the devices connected to the IoT are located in difficult-to-reach places (such as underground, on top of poles, or even in space or on the ocean floor), it’s easy to imagine how important it is to minimize the need to replace batteries. Adding up the costs of travel and hazard makes the math around cost and benefits very tricky indeed.

This isn’t the first time that the Aeris blog has analyzed the problem of powering remote IoT devices. Previously, we discussed many of the obvious solutions to IoT sensors located in various extreme environments. Solar power, for instance, is already in heavy use today. You’ve probably seen solar cells located on top of some traffic equipment. Other answers are more complicated but just as elegant: who wouldn’t want to save a boat trip and scuba dive to replace a deep-sea sensor by building the sensor to generate energy from the tidal motion of the ocean?

The answer for human-wearable IoT devices has been less compelling. Kinetic energy is obviously a possibility due to how much people move around, but what about when the person is at rest? And how does a sensor deal with times of great motion and no motion without adding a prohibitively large battery?

Fortunately for all of us who would rather not jog in place every fifteen minutes to charge our smartwatches, a recent discovery has provided an unlikely answer: gelatin.

A Powerful Semi-Solid

As detailed down to the gritty science by, gelatin is increasingly receiving attention for a variety of industrial applications. Gelatin has also seen use over the years in surprising ways, such as its use as a binding agent in match heads and a transmission medium for theatrical lighting.

Gelatin’s use as a transmission medium is what makes it so exciting for IoT devices. A team of scientists from the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) discovered that gelatin with an ionic charge can create thermoelectric power at room temperature. This means that a wearable IoT device can be powered by a person’s resting body heat. The team achieved power nearly two orders of magnitude higher than standard thermoelectric solutions. Since IoT sensor devices typically do not require much power to run, this is a massive benefit.

Wearable IoT devices have a huge potential for areas like the medical industry. Medical professionals frequently need to monitor their patients’ bodies to establish a baseline understanding or look for distressing but infrequent events. This usually means a stay in the hospital where the sensors are, but wearable sensors will allow some patients to go on with their lives while still providing information. Current concerns about social distancing and hospital overcrowding make the advantages of this dispersed technology clearer than ever.

As the technology advances, the thermoelectric potential of ionic gelatin might become a standard feature to power location trackers or even smart watches.

Delicious Possibilities

While some people may read the word gelatin and think of aspic while shuddering, gelatin’s future as a darling for powering wearable devices looks positively bright.

If you’re interested in keeping up with other advances in IoT technology, check out Aeris’ IoT Resources page for industry briefs, infographics, and case studies. Aeris keeps up to date with the latest in networking and IoT industry developments to provide our clients with the best service possible. Contact us today, and we’ll gladly put our proven IoT connectivity experience to work for you.

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