05 Jul 07. The BBC reported that a tiny generator powered by natural vibrations could soon be helping keep heart pacemakers working.
Created by scientists at the University of Southampton, the generator has been developed to power devices where replacing batteries is very difficult.
The device is expected initially to be used to power wireless sensors on equipment in manufacturing plants. The generator’s creators say the generator is up to 10 times more efficient than similar devices.
The tiny device, which is less than one cubic centimetre in size, uses vibrations in the world around it to make magnets on a cantilever at the heart of the device wobble to generate power.
Although the generator produces only microwatts this was more than enough to power sensors attached to machines in manufacturing plants, said Dr Steve Beeby, from the University of Southampton, who led development of the device.
“The big advantage of wireless sensor systems is that by removing wires and batteries, there is the potential for embedding sensors in previously inaccessible locations,” he said.
Using the tiny generator also made it possible to use larger numbers of sensors because there was no longer the need to visit them to replace or recharge batteries, said Dr Beeby.
The generator was developed to sit inside air compressors but, said Dr Beeby, it could find a future role in self-powered medical implants such as pacemakers. In a pacemaker the beating of the human heart would be strong enough to keep the magnets inside the device wobbling.
It could also be used to power sensors attached to road and rail bridges to monitor the health of such structures.
Work on the project was funded by the EU as part of the 14.3m euros (£9.67m) Vibration Energy Scavenging (Vibes) project that is looking at how to use environmental vibrations to generate power.
Quite clearly this development has huge military implications as this device could be used for powerplants on micro UAVs and Unattended Ground Sensors, tactical radios and soldier systems amongst others.