Devices such as as pacemakers and cochlear implants have become so common as seamless extensions of human beings that it's easy to imagine a world without clear distinctions between man and machine. And now, one of the major roadblocks to that bionic future may have just been knocked aside. Grandpa — say goodbye to batteries.
As great as medical implants are at boosting our bodies' failing organs, they do come with their own host of potential problems. Namely, they tend to require batteries by their very nature, and going in to change one can be a major, invasive surgery. Soon, though, all of that might be a thing of the past thanks to John Rutgers and his researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Working with a piezoelectric material called lead zirconate titanate, the team deposited the conductive bits onto a flexible silicone base that could easily move with an organ. When the material is put under stress as the organ moves, it becomes slightly deformed, squeezing its electrons out of place and creating net electrical charges (positive and negative) on either end.
The team then connected this silicone strip to a rechargeable battery and implanted it on the heart, lungs, and diaphragms of their animal subjects. And while they're not the first researchers to delve into the world of organ-powered electronics, they are the first to manage any practical output. According to New Scientist, their system was able to produce 0.2 microwatts per square centimeter, which would be enough to run an off-the-shelf pacemaker. What's more, the ribbons could actually be stacked should they need to run something that requires a little more juice.
Now, the team just needs to see what happens when the device exists in the body for multiple years at a time. Only when that is successful will they be able to move onto the true test — living, human organs. You can check out the video above to get a feel for just how incredible the process really is, and added bonus: Never has there been a more perfect soundtrack. [New Scientist]