Why you should care
This invasive method of creating power might just be the ultimate way to feed our energy addiction.
With sharp needles that pierce the body’s veins and tiny spinning wheels powered by human blood, Naomi Kizhner’s new leechlike line of jewelry takes wearable tech to a whole new kind of scary.
Now, Kizhner’s blood-sucking jewelry is not really a solution to our fossil fuel addiction. But her three-piece jewelry set, Energy Addicts, can indeed turn the body into a power supply. One accessory, the E-Pulse Conductor, embeds its gold biopolymer pincers into the wearer’s back and harvests energy from the spinal cord’s electrical signals. Others use the hydro-turbine Blood Bridge wheel or the electromagnet Blinker to create kinetic energy from the pulse, blinks and other involuntary movements.
It’s a post-humanistic stab at pre-empting the looming global energy crisis and provoking discussion around the world’s shrinking supply of nonrenewable energy, says Kizhner, a 32-year-old industrial designer at Jerusalem’s Hadassah College. Plus it gave her an outlet for her dark humor. While Kizhner admits that her jewelry line is not designed to be a practical solution, it does evoke a dystopian future where people might allow themselves to be harvested for energy. “It’s a tall question,” she said. “Will we want to sacrifice our bodies for this goal?”
Other energy-harvesting devices exist in the market. For example, self-powered wristwatches that use kinetic energy as a power source have been sold to energy-savvy folk for decades, and the U.S. Army just began using electricity-generating backpacks that produce up to 35 watts of electricity (enough to power an average-sized fridge) from human walking. But so far, hardly anything is as invasive as Kizhner’s blood-feasting accessories.
The science is not so far-fetched, according to Sarah Heilshorn, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University. Harnessing energy from the human body generates only tiny amounts of power, but the technique can solve real-life issues, she says: “This idea has been around in the biomaterials community for a while.” She points to an energy-harvesting device in the works from the University of Illinois, the University of Arizona and Tsinghua University in China that uses the heartbeat to power a pacemaker, sans battery. This new development could have lifesaving implications, since typical pacemakers run out of battery power every six to 10 years.
But John Kymissis, an electrical engineering professor and energy-harvesting expert at Columbia University, argues there’s no real way that Kizhner’s creations can work. He estimates that eyelids put out 500 millinewtons of force, or 0.5 watts, which is not even enough to power a small device. Even tapping into the pulse’s reservoir of energy is “particularly tricky,” he explained, because any interruption to the blood flow could create blood clots and other serious health problems.
For now, Energy Addicts remains a wacky idea. Will we be adorning ourselves with Kizhner’s bioengineered jewelry any time soon? The jury’s still out. But at least it’s one quirky way to stay off the grid.
Cover image by Shutterstock.