Tech: You've Got the Power

By Sarah Parsons

What you wear can elicit praise, envy, even disdainful glares from the fashion police. But now apparel is generating something a little more worthwhile: electricity. Read on for the latest threads under development.

Soak up the Sun  Next year’s sundress could be solar powered. Konarka Technologies is developing Power Plastic, a flexible photovoltaic strip that can be embedded into fabric and works like a solar panel to charge iPods and other gadgets. The company says the plastic is five times cheaper than existing solar technologies and can be colored, patterned, and cut to seamlessly blend into clothing.

Brace Yourself Researchers in Canada and the US are giving new meaning to power walking: They’ve created a knee brace that harnesses energy from walking and turns it into electricity. Someday, the technology could be built into prosthetic joints, pacemakers, and other implanted devices, eliminating the need for battery-replacement surgery. Hikers and soldiers might also find the device handy for charging cell phones and GPS locators.

Sustainable Shirt Whether you’re getting your groove on or going to the grocery store, a shirt made by Georgia Tech scientists can use that body motion to generate electricity. Textile fibers are covered with nanowires; when fibers rub together, the piezoelectric process converts the movement into electricity that can power portable devices.

Power Pack University of Pennsylvania scientists have developed a backpack that is suspended from a frame by springs so it bounces up and down as the wearer walks. The movement drives a small generator that creates electricity, providing scientists and soldiers a welcome alternative to lugging heavy, cumbersome batteries into the field. Solar-powered backpacks suddenly seem so passé.

Issue 25

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