Smartwatch vendors shipped 3.5 million units in the second quarter of 2016 (2Q16), which was down substantially from the 5.1 million shipped a year ago. Apple held the top rank by shipping 1.6 million watches. As with other devices, battery life is a major concern to users as smartwatches gradually evolve into doing what our smartphones can do, we then demand more from them with respect to battery life.
In light of this, a California based startup called Matrix have come up with a potential solution to charging smartwatch batteries all the time. They came up with a product called PowerWatch that is powered by body heat. MIT Review reports that this technology runs on thermoelectric generator technology which means that the temperature gradient causes electrons in the watch to flow, creating an electric current. Matrix engineering lead Anne Ruminsk says Matrix’s breakthrough was discovering how to dissipate the resulting heat, which would otherwise ruin the temperature gradient.
Our thermoelectric technology converts heat to electric power. It is based on the Seebeck effect discovered in 1821. In the absence of an applied voltage gradient V, electric current, J, can still be generated if there is a temperature gradient, T: . A thermoelectric material must have a low thermal conductivity and high electrical conductivity to function efficiently. NASA has used this technology to power the Voyager spacecraft and Curiosity, the mars rover.
A thermoelectric module is composed of many tiny semiconductor “legs” that when added together create a large voltage.
Speaking to CNET, Douglas Tham who is a co-founder and CTO of Matrix explained further by saying the technology works off any temperature gradient: cold to hot, hot to cold. On my wrist, it’s the heat of my skin compared with the room temperature. Tham told me Matrix’s tech is also being applied to industrial applications like powering internet-of-things sensors in rooms, and there’s research into possible uses in medical implants.
The watch does not use solar energy which Tham says is being explored in future and has he noted, combining solar power with temperature gradients and kinetic energy storage is a futuristic technology that could very well improve the overall efficiency of the wristwatch.
The watch is available on Indiegogo and is tagged a fitness watch and this puts Matric in direct competition with brands like Fitbit and Apple. It gets interesting because unlike other fitness wearables, this gets better as you exercise because your body produces heat as your work out and it comes with the regular calorie measurements among other trackers.
The watch currently goes for $129 and is expected to start shipping in July 2017 after which the price is expected to be $170.
When contributing to a project on crowd funding sites though, check up their policies with respect to refunds before and after the campaign ends.