Recharging your cell phone simply by walking may soon be a reality, according to a paper in the journal Nature Communications.

In Reverse electrowetting as a new approach to high-power energy harvesting, researchers Tom Krupenkin and J Ashley Taylor outline the potential for using the energy generated in human motion to power portable electronics.

Humans, generally speaking, are very powerful energy-producing machines, writes Krupenkin. While sprinting, a person can produce as much as a kilowatt of power. This is more than enough to power many of our mobile electronic gadgets -- laptops and cell phones included. Up to now, however, what has been lacking is a mechanical-to-electrical energy conversion technology that would work well for this type of application.

The answer? Electrical energy generation is achieved through the interaction of arrays of moving microscopic liquid droplets with novel nanometer-thick multilayer dielectric films.

Or, to put it another way, the mechanical energy (generated by walking, for example) gets converted into electrical energy via a bunch of incredibly tiny drops of fluid 'rubbing up against' layers of an incredibly thin film.

Or you might simply call it InStep NanoPower, which (not coincidentally) is the name of Krupenkin and Taylor's newly-formed business.

Since these structures are so very small, they can be incorporated into all sorts of things that experience regular movement (such as footwear, for example) without requiring significant and unsightly additions, or even causing any additional effort (unlike that pedal-powered lamp connected to your bicycle, for example).

The direct connection between the power-generating footwear would provide the power needed to power or recharge a smartphone, netbook, GPS unit, or any number of other battery-dependent devices. But the report gets even better -- it outlines the possibility that you won't even have to plug your iPhone into your left shoe while you walk.

Using a WiFi hot spot to transfer the power wirelessly, your energy-harvesting sneakers could be able to charge up your phone (or whatever) without being in contact with the device. Technically, this means that you can set your smartphone down on the desk and power it up simply by going about your usual business.

Not much of a charge will be provided for the usual cubicle-bound desk jockey, but a few trips to the bathroom, the water cooler, the boss' office -- and voila, your device is good for another few hours.


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