Light packs a powerful punch. If we could harvest a fraction of the photons striking our bodies each day, we could be cyborgs with medical devices powered by the sun. The concept took a step forward this week as Swiss researchers, publishing in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering on Jan. 3, showed postage-stamp size panels implanted under the skin could theoretically generate enough electricity to run pacemakers and similar devices that now require bulky batteries.
The six-month study gave 32 volunteers in Switzerland an arm-strapped box covered with filters simulating human skin containing solar panels, batteries, and electronics. The participants wore the device for one week in the summer, autumn, and winter while going about their daily routines. The power generated on average was multiple times the 5-10 microwatts required by a standard cardiac pacemaker used to regulate irregular heart rhythms. Researchers say the lowest power recorded during the trial was 12 microwatts.