Miscellaneous, Science & Technology

The Power of the Human Voice

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.
Nowadays, words are the most powerful weapons in your arsenal. These versatile units of communication take brainwaves and transform them into reading material. They make swords of our tongues and cause revolutions. They energize our spirits when we feel powerless. Now, they also energize your phone when it feels powerless.
Step aside solar power, wind power, and nuclear power, electrical engineers have developed a new technique for turning sound into electricity, translating call-time into battery power. So while you’re talking, you can also be charging your phone. This technology is so sensitive that it has the ability to harness background noise and music to charge a phone, but not as efficiently as the human voice. Incredibly, this is not new technology: it has been used in ships for emergencies for more than 30 years. What’s new is the technique and the more global application.
The technology works as follows: it uses tiny strands of zinc oxide between two electrodes. A sound-absorbing pad placed on top vibrates and causes the strands of zinc oxide wires to compress and release. This movement generates an electrical current.
Apart from its current inefficiency (100 decibels–the sound of traffic–to 50 mV), the other downside is that in order to charge the phone, you must use the phone.
Dr. Sang-Woo Kim, the pioneer of this design at the institute of nanotechnology at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea, envisions that this form of power generation has multiple uses. It could be used to generate electricity for lights on highways. If it was efficient enough, it could also mean that a party could generate its own power. Dr. Kim believes nanogenerators could also proliferate into other sources of energy and increase efficiency.
In addition to the direct application of this technology, it has spurred another concept to mind: energy scavenging. This concept allows us to become more self-sufficient. For areas which are not on the power grid, energy scavenging-based power generation is possibly a cost-effective way to provide energy. It also is a good way to generate power from multiple sources. As is, power generated from sound is not as efficient as solar cells. But instead of choosing between the two technologies, a combination of both could be used for maximum power generation.
Scientists and engineers are venturing forth and finding other sources such as the collective movement of tree leaves as a source of energy. There has been technology that uses the human heartbeat to power MP3 players. Several companies have successfully utilized movement as a form of power generation. This simply proves that even if you aren’t capable of finding the next big scientific discovery, you are capable of finding old ones and applying them in a more efficient way. Sometimes it does not take a technological revolution, but simply the power of the human voice.

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