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.

biobattery-tattoo

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.


Meet the robots that will care for our every need

When the ‘emotional ‘ home robot Pepper went on sale a couple of weeks ago, it would have been difficult to predict that it would sell 1,000 units in under a minute.

The demand for the robot shows the extent that people believe robots can be part of their lives and make them easier.

Now helper robots are in the home, we look at some of those that may become a bigger part of our lives in the coming years.

GiraffPlus

The GiraffPlus is a robot that’s part of a bigger project to care for the elderly in their own homes. The set-up combines using a telepresence robot with sensors around the home.

The telepresence element allows care specialists to interact with patients, while sensors collect information about the home, and those used by patients can help to monitor their blood pressure and other vital stats.

It is being tested in the home of six elderly people, and was funded by the European Union.

Care-O-bot 4

It’s always difficult to successfully create a sequel, but when it comes to the Care-O-bot the scientists behind the robot keep on improving it.

It consists of 6 independent plug-and-play modules that mean it can be customised to the user’s needs and has up to 31 degrees of freedom.

Touchscreens, microphones, and speakers are all included on the robot to help the user control it and help them with their job of caring for others.

Hobbit

Hobbit – the mutual care robot – is designed to allow the user to take care of the robot “like a partner” and then, in theory at least, they will be more likely to accept the robot’s help in return.

The EU-funded project aims to help older people feel safe at home.
The creators of the robot say it will be able to pick up items from the floor, fetch other objects and is also equipped with entertainment functions.

ChihiraAico

Due to its ultra-lifelike appearance this robot, created by Toshiba, is one of the creepiest robots around at the moment.

The robot is designed to make conversation, sing and could even go as far as being able to play music.

Toshiba eventually imagines that the robot could look after the elderly or work in jobs such as waitressing.

Robear

If you’re going to let a robot into your home to care for you, then you’re probably not going to have any issues if it is a bear.

Robear is an experimental nursing robot that may be able to look after us when we reach our twilight years.

It’s able to lift patients out of beds and into wheelchairs, as well as providing a helping hand to get those with mobility problems onto their feet.

Pepper

Pepper needs no introduction, but since we’re here the robot is the first to be designed to live with humans.

Those who live around Pepper are able to interact by the robot by voice, touch and emotions.

The creators say that if you’re laughing the robot will know you’re happy and it will even be possible for the robot to read facial expressions to know how you’re feeling.


Featured image courtesy of Aldebaran


 

Dentists will use 3D bioprinting to regenerate damaged gums “in the next few years”

An explosion in 3D bioprinting, as well as promising results from a number of studies, has led a leading researcher in the field of dental bioprinting to predict that dental clinicians will be using the technology in just a few years time to restore damage caused by conditions such as gum disease.

Dr Luiz Bertassoni, of the University of Sydney Faculty of Dentistry, said: “In the near future we’ll start to see more and more examples of how 3D printing can be useful restorative dental applications, usually more as templates and in models that can be used for further development in the lab.

“But I would expect that in the next few years, clinicians will start using 3D printing for restorative dental applications and more effectively using more complex examples of dental regeneration using these 3D printed devices as well.”

Bertassoni, who made the comments on a Journal of Dental Research podcast recorded to accompany the publication of research co-authored by him on the subject, is working on the development of bioprinted structures that aid the growth and regeneration of tissue, enabling bone and other materials to be repaired.

“Our lab has been mostly trying to bring simplified tissue constructs,” he said.

“We’re interested in using hydrogel-based materials that we can encapsulate living cells inside, and develop systems that we can create three dimensional structures while keeping the cells alive and functional.”

dentist

While there has only been limited work in human mouths using 3D bioprinting, the work that has been done has been promising.

The first research into 3D bioprinting to repair periodontal damage – ie damage caused by gum disease – was also published in the latest Journal of Dental Research, and study co-author Dr Scott Hollister, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan, also appeared on the podcast to discuss the work.

“We designed and built a scaffold for peridontal reconstruction in a patient, and we used that scaffold to deliver PDGF, or platelet-derived growth factor, for construction of a periodontal defect,” he said.

“The scaffold did well for about a year in the patient, but because of failure to develop enough tissue, it did dehisce [open] and had to be removed.”

Despite the set-back, Hollister and his team and now looking to adjust the scaffold to encourage more tissue to grow and thus produce better long-term results that can be replicated by dentists in regular clinical environments.

drug-screening

However, while there is considerable optimism about the potential of 3D bioprinting for dental repair, there are some potential regulatory issues to be overcome, and they aren’t the regular problems that typically stand in the way of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

“With 3D printing it becomes possible to make customised, patient-specific implants on a fairly large scale, and I think the challenge becomes: how do you impose quality control on such implants?” asked Hollister.

“What standards would be used to govern the material that goes into the machines, how do you verify the final device that you make for the 3D printer? Because there is some variation with 3D printing.

“The machines have a lot of parameters, including the material form that you use, and depending on that type of machine that you’re using there may be different parameters you have to set to build, and the quality can vary even for the same device in one machine day-to-day based on even environmental effects like humidity and temperature,” he added.

“I think that’s a big challenge for the FDA – how do you really qualify devices that might be modified on a patient-specific basis?”

Police to use throwable cameras to help assess dangerous situations

Getting video footage of a dangerous situation can allow those responding to it to assess what could happen, but getting a camera into tight spaces can be difficult. To help solve this problem a throwable camera has been created.

The ball, created by a former MIT student, sends back real-time video footage to a user’s smartphone. and it is due to be used by 100 police forces in the US in the next few years.

The video shows an – incredibly cringey – situation where a law enforcement officer has a suspect in a room, and throws the camera in so that his location can be pinpointed.