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New Wearable Tech Turns Your Sweat Into Electricity

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Music can make or break a workout. For many of us, forgetting our phones or earbuds are reason enough to turn around and head back home. The worst, though, is when you make it all the way to the gym only to discover your electronics have run out of power. Not only have you lost your tunes but also possibly your heart rate monitor, fitness tracker, workout timer, your workout plan, pictures of different moves, and the ability to text your best friend to let her know you did too many squats and now you need help walking out to your car. We've become so reliant on our fitness tech that when it doesn't work, it's enough to make a fit girl scream.

But this unplugged panic may soon be a thing of the past thanks to a brilliant new invention by researchers at North Carolina State University. Wearable thermoelectric generators (TEGs) are gadgets that convert your body heat into electricity—sweet, sweet electricity that can then be used to power your devices through even the longest workout.

"TEGs generate electricity by making use of the temperature differential between your body and the ambient air," says Daryoosh Vashaee, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and one of the inventors.

TEG, courtesy of NC State

Good news for avid exercisers: The harder you work out, the more heat your body generates, which in turn makes more electricity to power your gadgets. It can even store up extra energy so you can bank all that electricity from your killer CrossFit workout for later in the day when, say, your phone dies at the store. The TEG is a supply of renewable energy that is only limited by your ability to move.

So far so good, but will you need to look like a robot to benefit from this technology? Not at all, Vashaee says, the device is designed to be light, comfortable, easy to wear, and nearly invisible. "The TEG can be worn two ways: It can be sewn into the fabric of a workout top or integrated into an armband or wristband that can be worn separately," he explains, adding that they found that the upper arm was the best spot to "harvest" body energy. As the TEG gathers energy, it sends information to your phone via an app, and when your electronics need a quick recharge, you plug them in.

Vashaee isn't content to just help people get a better workout, however. The project's end goal is to create a source of wearable, battery-less power that can allow for constant and reliable monitoring of all kinds of health conditions, including sensors that can track your temperature, blood sugar levels, heart rhythms, asthma, and other biometrics and then transmit the data to your phone or even your doctor.

Currently, there isn't a model on the market, but the team hopes to get a consumer version out soon. Meanwhile, check out this Sustainable Fitness Gear for an Eco-Friendly Workout.