Tapping the Vein

But I thought computers were already powered by tears.

When it comes to energy-rich bodily fluids, blood is hard to beat. Plasma, the liquid component of blood, is constantly suffused with dissolved glucose, our cells' primary source of energy. Most enzymatic biofuel cells that have been developed to date target this molecule. [...] When this was implanted into a rat's abdomen, it generated around 40 microwatts of power, which the team actually used to operate both an LED and a digital thermometer. [...]

Human sweat is rich in a compound called lactate, which can also be used to generate electricity using EFCs, replacing their glucose fuel. Since sweat is so much easier to access, researchers have already been able to test perspiration-powered EFCs on humans with encouraging results. [...] Emphatic proof came the year after, when another group from UC San Diego came up with a wearable, textile-based EFC that could be integrated into sweat bands. A volunteer wore one of these while riding an exercise bike and, as with the tattoo-based devices, the cyclist's sweat allowed the fuel cells to generate electricity. This time, however, the sweat produced enough power to run an electronic device -- either an LED or a digital watch -- for a few tens of seconds at a time. [...]

At first glance, tears might seem like an even more unreliable source of fuel than sweat. But whatever our emotional state, we're always a little dewy-eyed. The cornea is continually kept moist by a film of what are called "basal" tears (as opposed to the "psychic" tears that well up when we cry). These mostly serve to lubricate and nourish the eye, but they're also full of energy. Among other chemicals, basal tears contain glucose, lactate, and ascorbate (a compound similar to vitamin C), any of which are an excellent fuel source for EFCs. [...] The Utah researchers have just developed the first-ever contact lens with an integrated EFC, allowing it to generate electricity from human tears alone.

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11 Responses:

  1. Will says:

    Pretty sure it comes out the other end.

  2. Russ says:

    Somebody better call Michio Kaku.

  3. nooj says:

    Why is there no picture of eyeball flashlights?? The Corinthian would totally buy one of those.

    I mean, at least a T-800 or Cyclops...

  4. neal says:

    This sounds promising, but this may have a negative impact on the immune system. Devices powered off of blood is too similar to human parasites. Maybe engineers should study how parasites survived without killing their hosts for so many years.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      Mother nature is a trial-and-error kind of girl. She's worth going to for shortcuts when she's come up with a trick we can't figure out how to do, but it's a mistake to assume her way is better just because it's "natural". The parasites aren't deliberately not killing the host, or vice versa, it's just an equilibrium. And the equilibrium may be temporary.

      If an engineer wants to put something inside a human and have it completely ignored by the immune system, they just choose inert substances the immune system isn't looking for. Silicone breast implants don't leave you taking immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of your life, for example, because silicone is completely uninteresting as far as the immune system is concerned.

    • Jeff Warnica says:

      The biological part - blood - is part of the human. The electromechanical part is biologically inert, and would, at most, get a cyst around it.

  5. margaret says:

    my company is fueled by the tears of employees

  6. Otto says:

    Suddenly, the shitty premise of The Matrix makes sense. Powered by human suffering. I can roll with that.

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