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Military forces have shown increasing interest in biological implants that would give soldiers new capabilities, such as reporting on the current state of soldier health, possible exposure to diseases, toxins, or other materials, or even enhancing cognitive capabilities and memory, as in a US DARPA project.
However, the power supply to such devices is still a challenge. Israeli researchers may have found a way for human body movement to power implanted devices indefinitely. A new material they engineered is loosely derived from collagen, the most common protein found in the human body.
The material is both strong and flexible, but it’s a very complex molecule, making it difficult for researchers to work with.
The innovation by Israeli scientist Ehud Gazit of Tel Aviv University and his colleagues was first published in April of 2019, portraying a new collagen-like molecule engineered using nanotechnology, or technology engineering at a scale of a billionth of a meter in size. The new molecule was a sort of simplified version of collagen, but consisting of only three amino acids.
In the May 2021 issue of the journal Nature Communications, they describe how they realized a new use for the material, as a means of energy. The unique shape of hydrogen bonds, a helix, can allow it to serve as a sort of antenna for electricity—transferring electricity within the body that is produced through natural movement.
When objects rubbing together produce an electric field, it’s called a piezoelectric response. Engineers have used the phenomenon for things like generating electricity from the foot movements of commuters through a busy Tokyo train station. The body can also produce electrical fields through movement and friction, which the new material is particularly adept at capturing, the new research shows, potentially enough to power small implanted devices.
Powering such devices is often one of the greatest challenges in the emerging field of implants since piezoelectric materials in other settings use lead or other components that the body can’t handle. The new research provides a much safer pathway for using the body’s own movement to power future cybernetic gear, according to defenseone.com.