Monday, October 12, 2009

Harvest Bioelectricity to Power Implants?

Do you remember the movie The Matrix? There's an important scene where Morpheus tells Neo that the people connected to the matrix are nothing more than batteries to power the machines. The matrix exists to harvest biologically generated power.

I cannot state that everything in the movie's script was accurate.  However, I can state with confidence that biological organisms generate electrical power.  The question is whether that electrical power can be harvested?  The matrix could do it, but anything can happen in the movies.  

I recently came across a new start-up company that has licensed technology from the University of Colorado that will allow implanted devices to harvest electrical power from their environment, the human body.  The company is called Biotricity Medical Inc. (www.biotricitymedical.com) and they're headquartered in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.  Here's the announcement as printed in The Tech Transfer Blog:

The University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) has executed an option agreement with Biotricity Medical Inc. to develop technology for implantable biogenerators, which would provide a potentially inexhaustible power supply to implanted medical devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps. The underlying technology was developed in the lab of Simon Rock Levinson, professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The company’s first planned product, EpiVolt, is a tiny, implantable biogenerator that will provide power indefinitely to devices such as pacemakers, insulin pumps, cochlear implants, artificial retinas, and vagal nerve stimulators. The device is composed of living electricity-generating cells that use the body’s natural chemicals and processes to create electric power. “It’s an inexhaustible source of power that will be much smaller than the batteries it will replace,” Levinson says. “This will allow the EpiVolt to be permanently implanted in very small spaces along with the device that it powers, without the need for long connecting wires running through the body to a remote battery power source."

The question is whether or not this will work.  This technology does seem to be worth watching.

As I had mentioned in an earlier article, limited power was the intractable problem that we faced when I worked for Rosetta-Wireless.  We had overcome of variety of significant problems and built a software system with a "bullet-proof" communications system and a variety of other capabilities.  The remaining problem was powering the mobile server.  

The fundamental problems that we faced several years ago have largely been solved by developments in battery and processor technology over the past few years.  That experience taught me a great deal about coming up with different methods for powering a mobile system. We attempted to devise methods that would enable us to harvest power from the environment to supplement the battery.  Biotricity's method for harvesting power won't have solved the power problems for Rosetta-Wireless, but it could provide the additional power demands required by sophisticated, wireless medical implants. 
 
The next post will discuss the specifics for creating a secure and robust connection over wireless.  

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