The Future is Here: Batteries for Stretchable Implants

Stretchable-battery1One of the newest and greatest developments in medical technology of late has been the creation of electronics that can stretch and flex. Increasingly, scientists are developing flexible electronics like video displays and solar panels that could make their way into clothing or even bodies. But of course, some challenges remain, specifically in how to power these devices.

Thus far, researchers have been able to develop batteries that are thin and bendable, flexibility has proven more of a challenge. In addition, no stretchable batteries have thus far offered rechargeability with high the kind of storage capacity that one might expect from the lithium-ion technology now powering many smartphones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices.

flexbatteryHowever, that may be changing thanks to two research scientists – Yonggang Huang from Northwestern University and John A. Rogers University of Illinois. Together, they have unveiled a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can be stretched, twisted and bended, and is still capable of powering electronics. What’s more, the power and voltage of this battery are similar to a conventional lithium-ion battery and can be used anywhere, including the inside of the human body.

Whereas previous batteries of its type had a hard time stretching up to 100 percent of their original size, this new design is capable of stretching up to 300 percent. Huang and Rogers have indicated that this will make it ideal for powering implantable electronics that are designed for monitoring brain waves or heart activity. What’s more, it can be recharged wirelessly and has been tested up to 20 cycles of recharging with little loss in capacity.

Stretchable-batteryFor their stretchable electronic circuits, the two developed an array of tiny circuit elements connected by metal wire “pop-up bridges.” Typically, this approach works for circuits but not for a stretchable battery, where components must be packed tightly to produce a powerful enough current. Huang’s design solution is to use metal wire interconnects that are long, wavy lines, filling the small space between battery components.

In a paper published on Feb. 26, 2013 in the online journal Nature Communications, Huang described the process of creating their new design:

“We start with a lot of battery components side by side in a very small space, and we connect them with tightly packed, long wavy lines. These wires provide the flexibility. When we stretch the battery, the wavy interconnecting lines unfurl, much like yarn unspooling. And we can stretch the device a great deal and still have a working battery.”

No telling when the first stretchable electronic implant will be available for commercial use, but now that we have the battery issue worked out, its only a matter of time before hospitals and patient care services are placing them in patients to monitor their health and vitals. Combined with the latest in personal computing and wireless technology, I also imagine everyone will be able to keep a database of their health which they will share with their doctor’s office.

And be sure to check out the video of the new battery in action:


7 thoughts on “The Future is Here: Batteries for Stretchable Implants

  1. Well, now we know how we can power our implanted technology. Many elements of a cyberpunk world are at our fingertips, It may not be as dark as Gibson’s world, but with the current economic uncertainty and the fast pace of science fiction turing into science fact, I could live to see my neices and nephews children living in a world like that.

    1. I know, its exciting isn’t it? Have you read anything that falls under the heading of “post-cyberpunk”? It’s like the former, only less dark apparently. This is how I do my research, fyi 😉

      1. Yep, Neal Stephenson is apparently an example. And Gibsons’ Bridge Trilogy sort of fell into that characterization too. Anything involving nanotech during the 90’s, IT, and didn’t predict the automatic emergence of dystopia. That’s the basic idea, high-tech, but not necessarily low life.

      2. I lost some books in a move two moves back. I wanted to reread my Gibson books and realized they must have been in that lost box. I just haven’t gotten around to replacing them yet. I’m compiling a list though.

      3. I read most the Gibson books so many years ago that I tend to get things mixed up on what happened where and in which book. Hence wanting to reread them. I did read half of Snow Crash. Something happened that didn’t link up properly within the contect of the world and I got annoyed and never finished it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s