A new fiber that can be woven into clothes, and harvest solar power from the light that falls on it, making it so that your jacket or sweater could power your phone. You would never never need to plug it in to a wall socket ever again. Fittingly, the inspiration for this futuristic invention comes from the movie Back to the Future Part II.
“That movie was the motivation,” Jayan Thomas of the NanoScience Technology Center, University of Central Florida told UCF News “If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realize those cinematic fantasies–that’s the cool thing.”
Thomas’s new fabric is based on his previous work, where he invented a cable that can also store energy like a battery, and solar panels which let light pass through them. This new material is made from copper ribbons with solar cells on one side, and energy storage on the other. Thomas and his team actually used a traditional loom to weave these nanofiber filaments into a fabric that can both harvest and store energy.
A fabric like this isn’t just a gimmick. Pretty much everyone is already using wearable tech, given that your phone never leaves your body, and all of our gadgets have their own batteries which must be charged. And while solar is already a viable option, you need two devices–one to capture energy and one to store it–in addition to the gadget than needs power.
Now, plugging your iPhone into your jacket might not be the most practical solution, but it’s a lot more practical than carrying a solar panel, batteries, and cables when you take a quick walk to the local supermarket.
The obvious application here is military. Soldiers are increasingly weighed down with wearable gizmos, and the batteries are a big part of that weight. And right now, most U.S. soldiers are in the Middle East, where the weather is perfect for solar power. Cops and emergency response workers could also benefit, and eventually this technology could power a pair of self-lacing sneakers, just like Marty McFly’s Nikes in the movie.