Universities Assist in Creating Body-Powered, Health-Monitoring Wearables

The NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) is doing some really innovative work in developing and designing with nano-enabled energy harvesting, energy storage, nanodevices, and sensors all integrated in an effort to create battery-free, body-powered, and wearable health monitoring systems.

These wearable nanotechnologies monitor individual health parameters and environmental exposures. Long-term sensing can help patients, doctors, and scientists to make correlations between health and environmental toxins, which can lead to chronic disease prediction, management, and treatment. Assist advances will accelerate environmental health research and clinical trials as well as create critical information to drive environmental policies.

(Source: NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center)

(Source: NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center)

System testbeds
The body-powered, battery-free feature of Assist devices is enabled by highly efficient integration of body energy harvesting and storage technologies, ultra-low power computation, low-power sensors, and intelligent power management strategies, with the goal of achieving energy-autonomous operation.

NERC says that there will be two system testbeds for the studies and research:

  • Exposure tracking: Correlation of health and environmental exposures for understanding chronic conditions such as allergies and autoimmune diseases.
  • Wellness tracking: Continuous monitoring of individual health for such things as treatment management, lifestyle habit changes, stroke prediction, emergency search and rescue, triage, and first responder tracking. Assist testbeds will be implemented using various wearable platforms, such as wrist bands and chest patches.

Assist's integrated system-driven research will be accomplished through five integrated research thrusts:

  • Thrust No. 1: Energy harvesting and storage — developing efficient ways to harness energy from the human body or the environment and convert it to usable forms, and store it in ultra-high-density capacitors
  • Thrust No. 2: Low-power nanoelectronics — designing and building low-power electronics and antennae
  • Thrust No. 3: Wearable nanosensors — developing low-power nanosensors and wearable interfaces
  • Thrust No. 4: Integrated sensor node design and prototyping — integrating enabling nanotechnologies with intelligent chip power management strategies for computation, wireless communication, and sensing
  • Thrust No. 5: Systems testbeds — proving and improving the technologies through hierarchical and heterogeneous integration and testing in a wearable, comfortable, biocompatible, self-powered sensor system (e.g., wrist band, patch, and tooth cap)

Dr. Veena Misra, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of Assist Center, says that her team is creating self-powered devices to help people monitor their health and understand how the surrounding environment affects it. The center is led by such prestigious schools as North Carolina State University along with three partner institutions — Penn State University, the University of Virginia, and Florida International University. Other universities include UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan, and universities in Australia, Japan, and South Korea.

Assist researchers are using the smallest materials to develop self-powered, health monitoring sensors and devices. These devices could be worn on the chest like a patch, on the wrist like a watch, or as a cap that fits over a tooth.

I'll have more to report and blog about as this research progresses during the next several months and years. In the meantime, do you know of any similar efforts? Let us know in the comments section.

29 comments on “Universities Assist in Creating Body-Powered, Health-Monitoring Wearables

  1. Vishal Prajapati
    January 29, 2014

    I think this will be the truely the future of health improvement by technology. Right now lot of wearable tech is available in the market. All have the same limitations. They are battery powered and their battery lifetime is critical in every product. If such research efforts will be successfuly completed then I think the next step is already available in the market which is integration with IOT. People will be able to directly get the alerts and reports on their mobile phone it self.

  2. Vishal Prajapati
    January 29, 2014

    I found similar research which is being carried out at MIT. This uses small differences in the temperatures of human body parts to harvest energy to power the sensors.




  3. Steve Taranovich
    January 29, 2014

    Thanks for this information Vishal—I know that we will see many more research studies in the area this year and beyond

  4. etnapowers
    January 29, 2014

    “These wearable nanotechnologies monitor individual health parameters and environmental exposures”

    These  technologies should communicate with some wearable receivers planted in clothes to elaborate the information and send a signal to a smart automatic system, this would lead to a real time monitoring of the individual health parameters.

  5. amrutah
    January 30, 2014

    There is a lot of work happening with carbon nanotubes.  These can act a power storage devices and provide long lasting power with recharging.  Another important field that uses is the memory.  There are instances where they are used in rebuilding heart muscles.

  6. Steve Taranovich
    January 30, 2014

    @etnapowers—Usually it is a Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) or more specifically a Body Area Network (BAN) that contains the wireless protocol for these types of worn devices. See STMicro's article

  7. amrutah
    January 30, 2014

    There is a evening session on the wearable devices at ISSCC'14, Feb 9-13.  

    ES3 Wearable Wellness Devices: Fashion, Health, and Informatics.

    There could be many discussions on such application.  If anybody attends please share your thoughts.

  8. SunitaT
    January 31, 2014

    There is a evening session on the wearable devices at ISSCC'14, Feb 9-13.  

    @amrutah, thanks for sharing this info. I am curious to know if this event is streamed live?

  9. SunitaT
    January 31, 2014

    There is a lot of work happening with carbon nanotubes.  These can act a power storage devices and provide long lasting power with recharging.

    @amrutah, thanks for sharing the link. The article says that the technology that could lengthen battery life by up to two orders of magnitude, or 100 times which is very significant improvement.

  10. SunitaT
    January 31, 2014

    These  technologies should communicate with some wearable receivers planted in clothes to elaborate the information and send a signal to a smart automatic system

    @etnapowers, I am sure pretty sure we will such gadgets being released to the market. These gadgets can also help the users to monitor their pets. For example gadgets like “MyFitDog” helps keep Dog Fit and Trim.

  11. SunitaT
    January 31, 2014

    This uses small differences in the temperatures of human body parts to harvest energy to power the sensors.

    @Vishal, thanks for sharing the link. I am curious to know how much amount of energy we can produce using this technique ?

  12. Vishal Prajapati
    January 31, 2014

    @Sunita, they haven't revealed the amount of energy can be produced by temperature difference but it is called thermoelectricity. They have given information on it if you want to know the working principle.




    But again there is not absolute data available for it. May be this is just a theoretical concept which needs lot of research before it can produce significant amount of energy to run  a biomedical sensor for 24 hrs.

  13. David Maciel Silva
    January 31, 2014

    This is the future, a way of effective monitoring.
    Maybe … a bluetooth module to send data to a terminal, you can update the status of the patient to the doctor ….

    Surely this solution is still out of the question, perhaps in the near future …

    Microchip has an interesting technology also below:

  14. PCR
    January 31, 2014

    Yes Vishal, healthcare features will be the next addition or the next generation of mobile phones. 

  15. PCR
    January 31, 2014

    Vishal thanks for the link
    Near past I also read an article where harvest energy from the shoo sole by taking the moving of the shoos while on walking.

  16. PCR
    January 31, 2014

    Good Idea Sunitat………..

  17. yalanand
    January 31, 2014

    Near past I also read an article where harvest energy from the shoo sole by taking the moving of the shoos while on walking.

    @Ranasinghe, you can harvest energy from shoo using a process known as “reverse electrowetting”. It converts mechanical energy to electricity via a microfluidic device, in which thousands of moving microdroplets (of an undisclosed non-toxic, inexpensive liquid) interact with “a nanostructured substrate.” We can use this with a wide range of mechanical forces, and is able to output a wide range of currents and voltages.

  18. samicksha
    February 2, 2014

    A wearable health monitoring system design needs to take into account several wearability criteria, for instance, the weight and the size factor. In addition to that, the security of the collected medical data, power consumption needs to be minimized which can increase the gadget operational lifetime.

  19. etnapowers
    February 4, 2014

    Steve, thank you very much for the interesting link, STMicroelectronics is working from a long time into this field , here the link of an interesting description of this activity:


    STMicroelectronics is focused on improving lives by providing enabling technology for an expanding list of healthcare and wellness applications in the fields of:-

    • Clinical Diagnostic and Therapy
    • Medical Imaging
    • Portable and Telehealth

    Thanks to ST's range of optimized process technologies providing capability we are able to design semiconductor devices with best-fit characteristics, and to provide the highest in quality and reliability.   In addition, our strong involvement in government-funded programs, the Continua Health Alliance, and our collaboration with international universities and leading global healthcare companies has provided us with strong partnerships for further engagement. We address the healthcare market with a broad portfolio of standard devices, taking advantage of our high-voltage and low power capabilities where applicable, such as:-

    • Sensors and Motion MEMs (micro-electromechanical systems)
    • Dedicated front ends and drivers for various technologies of scanner
    • Communications ICs and Modules
    • Microcontrollers (Low Power, High-Performance, 8- and 32-bit)
    • Analog, Digital and Mixed-signal ICs
    • Discrete devices
    • Power Management
    • Memories

    In addition to these, ST offers our customers application-specific standard and custom devices and access to our leading-edge silicon processes and package technologies for customer-designed products to give added performance and value to the end product.

  20. Davidled
    February 4, 2014

    I wonder that power source comes from body. When body is moving, does body provide the power source? Or is organ of body continiusly providing the power to device? 

  21. Netcrawl
    February 4, 2014

    @etnapowers I agree with you about STMicrolelectronics, they're pretty good in this area, I think for most companies, their future fortunes in the market will  be bound by their ability to embrace changesand supply the market with compeliing solutions and products that enable high fucntionality while keeping costs down, cost is a key factor.

  22. Steve Taranovich
    February 4, 2014

    @DaeJ—I think that body temperature and/or body motion could provide energy

  23. Victor Lorenzo
    February 5, 2014


    There is a paper from 2008 Proceedings of the IEEE called “Energy Harvesting From Human and MachineMotion forWireless Electronic Devices ” that could be interesting for you on this subject. They mention and show prototypes for several practical kinetic energy harvesting methods. They also give reference to original works, prototypes and products.

    There are also some other more recent papers covering MEMS based energy harvesting solutions.

  24. Netcrawl
    February 5, 2014

    Interesting @Steve body-powered devices I think its possible, I think the future of health-monitoring wearables will be fundamentally influenced by nanolectronics, which will providesubstantial improvenments in sensing, communication systems and energy harvesting. 

  25. etnapowers
    February 6, 2014

    @SunitaT: I agree with you , these technology has the potential to perform a real time monitoring of a User, whatever it is a patient or a pet, the approach is the same, so I think that further features will be added to these smart systems.

  26. etnapowers
    February 6, 2014

    Yes Netcrawl, I think that a leader company, like ST is willing to become in this field, can set up a price that will be a reference for all the competitors. Becoming a leader is the toughest part, the compensation is the high revenue that comes from being a leader in the market for wearable technologies.

  27. RedDerek
    February 6, 2014

    @Vishal – energy based on temperature difference is essentially a Thermal Electric Generator (TEG). The key is to have a large temperature difference. Without the difference, the efficiency is very low.

  28. RedDerek
    February 6, 2014


    Near past I also read an article where harvest energy from the shoo sole by taking the moving of the shoos while on walking

    Shoes have been doing this for years. Look at the flashing ones. Military is looking at all types of energy harvesting on troops that include shoes, knees, vibration, etc.

  29. Davidled
    February 6, 2014

    Well, I image that military cloth is one of energy harvesting.  Inside cap of military cloth material is recharged when solider is moving continuously. So, there is no extra battery for any military electronic device in the future.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.