An artificial pacemaker from St. Jude Medical, with electrode (Credit: Steven Fruitsmaak)
Prof. Daniel J. Inman
Two aerospace engineers from the University of Michigan created a revolutionary pacemaker which does not require conventional batteries. Instead the device uses vibrations which comes from heartbeats themselves to power itself. Patients with existing pacemakers require a complex surgery every 5-10 years which is how long current generation batteries can last.
Amin Karami and Daniel Inman, aerospace engineers at the University of Michigan, developed a special ceramic layer that can harvest vibrations across a range of frequencies. They also incorporated magnets into the design, whose additional force field can drastically boost the electric signal that results from the vibrations.
Although the researchers haven’t built a prototype of the pacemaker yet, they did conduct simulations which demonstrated that the concept should work. At the heart of their invention (which was originally aimed at the aerospace industry) is an incredibility thin piezoelectric ceramic material. Piezoelectric materials converts mechanical movement into electrical energy. The specific material used in this case will catch heartbeat vibrations and briefly expand in response.
The future device should be able to generate 10 microwatts of power, or just about 8 times the power a pacemaker needs to operate. It will always generates more energy than the pacemaker requires, and it performs at heart rates ranging from 7 to 700 beats per minute Well below (and above) the normal range of a healthy person.
The basic piezoelectric technology was originally developed by Karami and Inman for light unmanned aircrafts (UAVs) aiming to generate power from the vibration of the wings.
More information on Karami and Inman research can be found on the University of Michigan website.
Using vibrations to create electricity is not a new concept. In 2007 TFOT reported that Scientists from Southampton University in the UK created a practical “vibration harvesting” microgenerator less than one cubic centimeter in size. We also reported about shoes that create electricity from your steps as well as the opposite concept developed by The British company “The Facility” for a floor that converts the energy from footsteps into electricity. Other similar technologies include a knee brace that captures energy as you walk which was also developed by researchers at the University of Michigan and a (somewhat different) technology for turning sound into electricity which was developed by South Korean researchers which could be used to power cell phones in the future.
Iddo has a B.A. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science and an M.A. in Philosophy of Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between the scientific community and industry. Iddo was awarded the 2006 Bar Hillel philosophy of science prize for his work on the relationship between science and technology. He is a member of the board of the lifeboat foundation and was the editor of several high-profile science and technology websites since 1999.