Biobattery-embedded tattoos to use sweat to power your tech

Scientists have developed a temporary tattoo with a built-in, sweat-powered biobattery that could one day be used to charge your phone while you are out for a run.

The biobattery works using lactate, a key chemical found in sweat that can be used to monitor exercise performance.

This means that the more the wearer sweats, the more energy is going to be produced, creating the interesting scenario where less physically fit people are able to produce more power.

The technology is one of the first examples of skin-based power sources, and could pave the way for a host of technologies powered by devices attached to the skin.


The biobattery works by using an enzyme to extract the electrons in the sweat’s lactate and move them to the battery. At present, the amount of energy produced is very small, but the researchers are confident that they will be able to develop this to enable small electronic devices to be charged.

“The current produced is not that high, but we are working on enhancing it so that eventually we could power some small electronic devices,” said Dr Wenzhao Jia, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California San Diego.

“Right now, we can get a maximum of 70 microWatts per cm², but our electrodes are only 2 by 3 millimeters in size and generate about 4 microWatts — a bit small to generate enough power to run a watch, for example, which requires at least 10 microWatts.

“So besides working to get higher power, we also need to leverage electronics to store the generated current and make it sufficient for these requirements.”

The device has also been developed as a lactate monitor, which will be a valuable tool for both doctors and athletes. Previously lactate has been monitored using a series of blood tests, so this monitor is likely to prove simpler and less invasive.

The biobattery’s reliance on sweat means that the amount of power produced can vary significantly depending on the person wearing it.

The researchers tested the initial biobattery on 15 exercise bike-riding volunteers, and found that not only did those who were least fit produce the most energy, but the most regularly active participants produced the least energy.

This could affect the potential success of the technology, as such variation in performance could make it difficult to market.

However, this is one of the first examples of skin-based batteries, and the technology is likely to be developed much further.

“These represent the first examples of epidermal electrochemical biosensing and biofuel cells that could potentially be used for a wide range of future applications,” said Dr Joseph Wang, professor of nanoengineering at University of California San Diego.

From here we could see the development of an array of wearable technologies and gadgets siphoning power through our skin, perhaps even one day powering whole computers, medical augmentations and more.

Inline image courtesy of Dr Joseph Wang.

Elon Musk: Mars will have a Battlestar Galactica-style colonial fleet

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that Mars could have a million-strong population within a century and will be served by a massive “colonial fleet” of interplanetary spaceships in a talk today where he unveiled his own plans to colonise the Red Planet.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress, Musk said that he would “make the biggest contribution I can to making our species multiplanetary”. He outlined SpaceX’s proposed Interplanetary Transport System, previously known as Raptor, which would allow people and cargo to transported to the planet on an unprecedented scale and has already been fully designed by SpaceX.

If the system is built – something he says could happen in a decade if “things go super well” – it would allow the Red Planet to be colonised, and, according to Musk, to develop into a vast settlement with “everything from iron foundries to pizza joints”.

“Over time there would be many space ships, ultimately up to a 1,000 ships in orbit, so the Mars colonial fleet would depart en-masse,” he said. “Kind of like Battlestar Galactica.”

Musk said that the Interplanetary Transport System would allow for a significant cut in the cost of getting to Mars because it would be fully reusable and refuel in orbit, with propellant produced on the Red Planet. He said that deep cryo methalox, a methane-based propellant, would be most suitable for the purpose.

“The first flights will be relatively expensive, but the architecture allows for $200,000,” he said. “We think that the cost of moving to Mars could ultimately drop below $100,000.”

Musk said that the ability to carry around 100 people plus cargo in each craft, would enable the colony to grow with every Mars rendezvous – a period every 26 months where the orbits of the respective planets are such that travel to the Red Planet is feasible.

“In the long term the ships will be even bigger than this. This will be relatively small compared to the mars interplanetary ships of the future,” he said.

“From the point at which the first person goes to Mars it’s probably 20 to 50 total Mars rendezvous, so it’s probably 40 to 100 years to build a self-sustaining civilisation on Mars.”

He said he thought that there would be no shortage of people wanting to move to the planet, suggesting that there may be greater opportunities there than here on Earth.

“Mars would have labour shortages for a long time, so jobs would not be in short supply.”

Images courtesy of SpaceX

Images courtesy of SpaceX

However, while Musk’s plans are ambitious, he was clear that this was a highly challenging project that would require multiple partners to achieve.

“Ultimately this is going to be a huge public-private partnership, and right now we’re just trying to make as much progress as we can with the resources we have available,” he said.

“As we show that this is possible, that this dream is real, I think the support will snowball over time.”

However, SpaceX does plan to get the ball rolling with its own development spaceship, which Musk says could begin tests in four years.

What will Elon Musk announce at the International Astronautical Congress?

Later today, Elon Musk will be giving a talk at the International Astronautical Congress entitled Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species, discussing the challenges involved in getting to and colonising Mars.

It is expected that during the talk he will reveal the next stage of SpaceX’s involvement in this mission. We don’t yet know however, just what this involvement will stretch to, whether it will just be on the transport side or whether Musk and his company will be involved in colonisation itself.

Below are some of the possibilities and how likely we think they are as announcements.

The first successful firing of the Raptor engine, which was tweeted by Elon Musk

The first successful firing of the Raptor engine, which was tweeted by Elon Musk

Expanded information on Interplanetary Transport System

Yesterday, Musk revealed that SpaceX had completed the first successful firing test of their Raptor engine. He also unveiled a few specs for the engine, including a chamber pressure almost three times greater than the Merlin engine SpaceX uses in the Falcon 9 rocket, and announced a certain change brought on by the power of the engine.

Initially, the Raptor was planned to be the power behind the Mars Colonial Transporter, the ship Musk intends to carry people and supplies to the Red Planet. After tweeting that, “Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name…”, however, the craft has now been renamed to the Interplanetary Transport System.

A successful firing test is a good start but still a far cry from a completed craft and launch system, it is highly likely however that Musk will expand on the specs he previously revealed to announce the full craft and just how the Raptor is going to play into getting people to Mars.

Probability: High

Image courtesy of SpaceX. Featured image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of SpaceX. Featured image courtesy of NASA

Elon Musk will lead colonisation of the planet

Musk has previously said he believes that humans must become a multiplanetary species if we are to continue long-term and it does not seem beyond the realm of possibility that he would want to be leading the charge not just on getting us to Mars but actually settling there.

While at the moment any such announcement is likely to be mostly hypothetical – just being able to get there being a big first step – the work Elon Musk is doing with his other companies, Tesla and SolarCity, has showed he is not adverse to grand plans uniting his various endeavours.

If he is involved with colonisation, don’t be too shocked if Musk announces the Tesla settlement as a pilot test, powered by his solar efforts and running on clean electricity with all the parts and settlers carried there by SpaceX rockets. A longer term plan than the Interplanetary Transport System certainly, but one that is not beyond the reach of Musk’s ambition.

Probability: Medium

Image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute.

Image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute.

Immediate plans to colonise beyond Mars

We are still several years from even reaching Mars with manned missions, let alone colonising the planet, but the renaming of the Mars Colonial Transporter seems to tease that SpaceX may have plans beyond the Red Planet.

Jupiter’s moon Europa has previously been discussed as a possibility for life elsewhere in the solar system, the idea of floating cities on Venus being another consideration. Any announcement of plans to immediately start working towards colonising beyond Mars would have to acknowledge it as a very long-term goa,l but given Musk’s belief in the multiplanetary species, the idea of limiting ourselves to just the two planets maybe isn’t quite enough.

Probability: Low

Elon Musk’s talk will begin at 6:30pm GMT today, and will be viewable in the embedded video below:

NASA finds evidence of water plumes shooting out from the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found evidence of 125 mile high water vapour plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

It is already well known that Europa’s ocean contains twice as much water as that of Earth, which makes it an area of extreme interest in the search for alien life. But until now water samples were impossible to obtain because the ocean is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness.

NASA’s findings increase the possibility that astronauts travelling to Europa may be able to sample the icy moon’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.

“Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system,” said acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, Geoff Yoder. “These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.”

Europa’s plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa’s surface.

To observe these plumes the team, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, took pictures of Europa in ultra-violet light as the moon transited across the disk of Jupiter.

The direct images showed what appeared to be the silhouette of plumes rising above the surface of Europa, and in 10 separate occurrences spanning 15 months, the team observed what is presumed to be erupting water vapour plumes on three separate occasions.

This isn’t the first time that water vapour has been potentially observed on Europa through Hubble’s Space Telescope.

In 2012, a team led by Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, detected evidence of water vapour erupting from the frigid south polar region of Europa which they measured as reaching more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) into space.

“When we calculate in a completely different way the amount of material that would be needed to create these absorption features, it’s pretty similar to what Roth and his team found,” said Sparks. “The estimates for the mass are similar; the estimates for the height of the plumes are similar. The latitude of two of the plume candidates we see corresponds to their earlier work.”

A composite image depicting the plumes, which are located around the 7 o'clock position. Image courtesy of NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center. Above: A visualisation of the plumes. Image courtesy of Goddard/Katrina Jackson

A composite image depicting the plumes, which are located around the 7 o’clock position. Image courtesy of NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center. Above: A visualisation of the plumes. Image courtesy of Goddard/Katrina Jackson

In order to confirm the presence of the water vapour plumes, scientists have proposed using the infrared vision of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018.

NASA also is formulating a mission to Europa with a payload that could confirm the presence of plumes and study them from close range during multiple flybys.

“This observation opens up a world of possibilities, and we look forward to future missions — such as the James Webb Space Telescope — to follow up on this exciting discovery,” said director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, Paul Hertz.