What if you could create a wearable vest that uses the human body's natural heat loss in cold temperatures to passively generate electricity? UPow3r, a team of four mechanical engineering undergraduate students, did just that for their senior capstone design project. The team of Mischa deRuijter, Gabe Nadelstein, Tom Mazeika, and Cameron Greiner, also took second place in the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship's Minute Pitch event for their work.
The team's project is a proof of concept wearable thermoelectric generator vest that utilizes thermoelectric generators (TEGs). TEGs collect energy from the body via the Seebeck effect, which uses the heat of human body temperature versus the ambient cold air outside to passively produce electricity from that simple temperature difference.
For the UPow3r project team, the goal went beyond simply creating electricity. A vital component of the project was that the energy be created passively and not be obtrusive to the wearer, which the team flagged as issues in other wearable devices that hindered their use.
"The way we've designed the vest, the TEGs aren't really noticeable," Nadelstein says. "The vest doesn't change your body temperature, and wearing the device doesn't restrict the range of motion. We didn't want the person wearing it to focus on it or have it be a big interruption in their day-to-day activities."
Their current prototype can generate enough power to run a GPS unit. "We imagined that if someone's stranded and our device can generate enough passive electricity to provide their position, they're not stranded anymore. We know exactly where they are," DeRuijter says. "There are major implications in that kind of wearable device, such as remote medical monitoring, and much more."
DeRuijter, who completed a robotics internship the previous summer, was also excited to dive into the challenge of the project's mix of mechanical and electrical engineering. "When you have a device that generates electricity, no matter what, you are going to have to do electrical engineering to work with it. It was exciting to be able to work with circuitry, do our own coding, and see live results from the TEGs that matched our expectations."
In December, the team presented their project during the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Senior Capstone Design Event, where they took third place. Though the work of the capstone design course is complete, they hope to continue to work on the project, eventually patenting it. They also have further plans to expand the potential of the energy creation of the vest by coupling it with battery storage and are looking for sponsors within the UMass Amherst campus or industry to partner with as they continue the work.