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Device Would Power Pacemakers with Heartbeats

Piezoelectric energy scavenger could reduce the need to replace batteries in pacemakers

1 min read
Device Would Power Pacemakers with Heartbeats

Every 5-10 years people with pacemakers undergo surgery just to replace their pacemaker batteries. The operations are risky for some patients and costly, so researchers have been proposing alternative ways to keep those pacemakers powered up. We've seen a rubber film that could harvest energy from walking and breathing, a turbine that fits in a human aorta, and microbial fuel cells that use energy from blood sugar. Now researchers have proposed harvesting energy from heartbeats. 

Researchers at the University of Michigan designed the device around the idea of catching vibrations from heartbeats and converting them into electricity using a piezoelectric material. The university's news service reports that the device could generate 10 microwatts of power, or about eight times the amount a pacemaker needs to operate. 

Piezoelectric materials have been demonstrated to power mobile phones and other portable electronic devices, but translating the technology for mass production has proved impractical. In applying the technology to pacemakers, the researchers designed the shape of the ceramic layer to harvest vibrations across a broad range of frequencies. Magnets were also incorporated to boost the electric signal. The design is described in the current issue of Applied Physics Letters as "linear low frequency and nonlinear mono-stable and bi-stable energy harvesters."

No prototype has been built yet, but the researchers have detailed blueprints and run simulations demonstrating the concept. Tests indicate that the device could perform at heart rates from 7 to 700 beats per minute. 

The researchers, aerospace engineers Amin Karami and Daniel Inman, originally designed the device to generate power from wing vibrations on light unmanned airplanes.


Photo: Travis Goodspeed

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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