“Back to the Future Part II” heralded in a slew of nifty ideas that no one had really thought about at the time -- including a predication about the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.
Those far-reaching ideas have come closer to home with hoverboards, virtual reality, drones, smart television, video conferencing and biometrics becoming a reality in today’s world. While the concept of flying cars is still in the distant future (although some are working on it), researchers at University of Central Florida (UCF) are working on a way to bring power to clothing by harnessing the power of the sun.
The researchers credit “Back to the Future Part II’s” self-lacing sneakers as inspiration for the idea to weave photovoltaics into textiles in order to produce jackets and other clothing that would essentially be solar-powered batteries that never need to be plugged in. UCF says one day this technology could improve how soldiers in the field operate or even how smartphones are charged -- maybe by simply slipping it into your pocket.
“That movie was the motivation,” said Jayan Thomas, associate professor and nanotechnology scientist at UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center. “If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realize those cinematic fantasies – that’s the cool thing.”
How They Did It
The idea was to develop filaments in the form of thin, flexible and lightweight copper ribbons. Those ribbons contain a solar cell on one side and an energy-storing layer on the other. The proof-of-concept shows that these filaments could be laced inside a jacket or other clothing to harvest and store energy to power any number of devices from smartphones, to personal health sensors and other gadgets.
Researchers say the technology overcomes traditional shortcomings of solar cells in that the energy it produces must flow into the power grid or be stored in a battery.
“A major application could be with our military,” said Thomas. “When you think about our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, they’re walking in the sun. Some of them are carrying more than 30 pounds of batteries on their bodies. It is hard for the military to deliver batteries to these soldiers in this hostile environment. A garment like this can harvest and store energy at the same time if sunlight is available.”
Other potential uses include electric cars, where the power could generate and store energy whenever the cars are in the sun.