Human body can help power 6G devices in the future, study shows

Not as a charger but as an antenna.
Ameya Paleja
Hands holding phone while digital images swirl around
Internet of Things

Tippapatt/iStock  

A team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has found that the human body could be a useful tool to harvest waste energy and use it to power devices in the future, including those used for 6G, the next generation of wireless communication, a university press release said.

The world has just begun to experience the wonders of 5G wireless communication that has been rolled out in many countries across the world. The next generation, though, referred to as 6G, promises up to 1000 times faster, even faster data rate and a tenth of the latency seen with 5G.

The era of the Internet of Things (IoT) that is expected to begin with 5G will enter a new phase with its successor, with an even larger number of devices and sensors expected to come online. The higher communication speeds in 6G are being estimated due to the development of Visible Light Communication (VLC), a type of wireless fiber-optic network.

How does Visible Light Communication work?

VLC works much like radio signals when it comes to transmitting information, except that it uses light from light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to get the job done. An LED has the ability to turn on and off a million times a second, Jie Xiong, a professor of information and computer sciences at UMass Amherst, informed in the press release.

Since our homes, offices, streets, and vehicles are all lit by LEDs, we have an existing infrastructure that can deploy this technology, and anything that has a camera, whether a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, can be a receiver and make the technology work.

Interestingly, these very LEDs also emit side-channel radio frequency (RF) or radio waves which is an energy leak, and this could be harvested to make VLC devices work.

Human body can help power 6G devices in the future, study shows
Comparison on various objects and their energy harvesting capacity

Tapping into RF leakage

So Xiong and his team set out to design an antenna that could collect this leaked energy. Their antenna design consisted of coiled copper wires, which were then tested for their energy collection abilities. Irrespective of the thickness of the coil or the number of times the copper wire was wound, the researchers found that the energy collection ability of the antenna increased when it was coupled with another object.

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Apart from keeping the antenna in contact with different materials like wood and steel, the researchers also kept it in contact with objects like walls, tablets, phones, and even laptops to see how much energy could be harvested. The team found that energy collection increased with electronic gadgets but was highest when the coil was in touch with the human body.

Human body can help power 6G devices in the future, study shows
The team discovered that the human body is one of the best materials

After a few more rounds of experimentation of where the copper wire could be placed, the researchers found that wearing it like a bracelet on the upper forearm offered the right balance of energy collection and wearability. Such a power harvesting device could capture enough energy to run on-body health monitoring sensors that have long sleep duration and slow sampling frequency, the researchers noted.

The team is now working to harvest waste energy from all sorts of sources to power future technology.