Disney Innovates Finger-Powered Energy Harvesting Technology!

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Disney researchers have successfully furnished an energy harvesting mechanism that can effectively generate electric currents by simply finger-tapping a paper or plastic surface which are strong enough to light up LEDs or trigger actions within games.

The device uses a paper generator which has a thin, flexible sheet of polymer Teflon placed carefully between two conductive layers of metallized polyester which serves the purpose of electrodes. When the paper is rubbed against the Teflon sheet, electrical charge accumulates on it. Then, on moving the electrodes relative to each other, a tiny alternating current is generated. This current could then be used to light up LEDs, E-ink displays, sound buzzers and also some infrared communication devices.

The idea for this technology evolved when Interaction Designer Mr. Ivan Poupyrev collaborated with Mr. Mustafa Emre Karagozler, an electrical engineer.

“We were discussing about new ways of harvesting energy and then thought that, it would be cool to collect the electrostatic charge from rubbing materials” Poupyrev said in an interview.

The system relies entirely on electrets which are nothing but the electrostatic equivalent of permanent magnets, which carries the electric charge. Polytetrafluoroethylene(PTFE), popularly known as Teflon and quartz are examples of electrets. These electrets are already a part of microphones and MEMS devices.

Researchers have practically demonstarted how to use electrets in order to convert finger-tapping into power to LEDs using much expensive microfabricated structures. However, the modern day researchers at Disney have come up with a way that enables us to do the same but in a much feasible way.

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The technology would help in designing books and posters that would look attractive and more interactive and this all would be done without the use of batteries. No issue of low battery..! It produces a feeble current but has a high voltage range on the scale of 1,000 volts which can trigger e-ink paper displays easily.

Disney has given a few demonstrations of the technology, like an e-ink face of a cat astronaut could be revealed by just rubbing a button on a piece of Teflon material. Another example pits two people against each other to tap fast enough to turn on an LED first. The energy can also be used to trigger a buzzer sound by storing the charge in a capacitor when sufficient power is generated. Similarly, it can be used to send an infrared signal to trigger actions by a computer.

The team at Disney is still working to improve the technology. There’s a lot of optimisation that could be done inorder to make the system more efficient and acceptable. Significantly, the tiny amounts of power collected should be stepped up to the extent that it could charge a smartwatch or a simple e-ink reader.

Earlier, researchers at Disney even developed a microphone that lets a user record a voice message and then relays that message to another person simply by touching it with a finger.

Well, no doubt its an era of science and technology. I’m just looking forward to new technologies like this that could wonder struck me. Hmmm…I’m impressed Mr. Poupyrev and Mr. Electrical Engineer..! 😉


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