Stretchable Supercapacitor Could Revolutionise Wearables

Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD



I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of wearables. Whether it was action figures with eagle eye vision or Q’s selection of gadgets in my favourite James Bond movies, the incorporation of technology in everyday items has always really appealed to me, and it still does. I was even on the verge of buying a Google Glass when the company announced it was withdrawing support around five years ago. Rather than it being a bad idea, I think it was ahead of its time and it has recently seen a bit of a renaissance as a professional tool, with the Glass Enterprise Edition 2 aimed at providing Augmented Reality services to workers in warehouses and factories.

The whole wearable devices sector is on the rise at the moment, with the market expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.3% between now and 2025 to reach an overall figure of $62.82 billion by 2025 according to research from ResearchAndMarkets. Currently the largest and most visible subcategory of the market is smart watches. These devices can give us an insight into the operation of our own bodies through sensors. At the same time keep us connected to the outside world, taking messages, or comparing the data taken by the sensors with historical data to let us see change in our performance or health. They are really handy devices, but mostly they are only for our own information and pleasure. The vast majority, if not all, of these consumer wearables are not certified for medical use despite providing accurate body readings.

That’s not to say that all wearables are purely for fun, there is another area of wearables that have been designed specifically for medical applications and this sector is also growing rapidly. Medical wearables can perform diagnostic or continuous monitoring functions in the patient’s home. These devices are especially useful for the growing number of chronic diseases that require close monitoring. At the moment, these solutions can be difficult to wear for long periods. Rather than a normal device, users would prefer them in a form factor like a plaster or a stretchable bandage. With access to flexible electronics, the one thing that is holding devices like these back is the power source which needs to be thin and preferably flexible for comfort.

Now, a new type of supercapacitor developed by researchers at Duke University and Michigan State University might provide a solution. The supercapacitor can be stretched to eight times its original size and still remain fully functional. It does not exhibit any wear and tear from being stretched repeatedly and loses only a very small amount of performance after 10,000 cycles of charging and discharging. The new supercapacitor is made from carbon nanotube forests, which are placed on an elastomer substrate that has been pre-stretched in two directions. This creates a spaghetti-like formation instead of rows. If it can be manufactured at scale, it could revolutionise medical devices, and other types of wearables too. You can read more about it here