DHS gives batteries a jolt
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Potential use cases
Under the initial DHS vision, the thin-battery technology would be integrated into personal-protection equipment (PPE) — suits and garments — worn by first responders, so that they "would not have to carry these heavy batteries with them and constantly come back and have to recharge those every 15-20 minutes," Mapar said.
"If this becomes a layer within your PPE, then we can run leads and a couple of wires and send it through a little device that would do your power management for you. From there, you could distribute the power to your radio, to the PASS device, to the location-tracking device, to the physiological-monitoring device, to your temperature sensor, to even stuff that you might have in your heads-up display in your helmet."
Having such a readily available power supply on a first responder through wearable battery technology opens many new technological possibilities that otherwise would not be considered. For instance, various technologies allow each individual user to act as a router in an ad-hoc mesh network, but the potential battery drain on the mobile devices supporting that functionality is a major concern. The DHS thin-battery solution could alleviate that problem and allow the use of multiple sensor technologies — from physiological monitors to environmental temperature gauges.
Mapar points to another DHS project — the firefighter-location solution known as GLANSER — as a prime example.
"Because of the wireless mesh network embedded within [GLANSER], all of a sudden, I've got network connectivity." Mapar said. "I can tell where you are inside a building, I can give the incident commander a quick status of their physiological health, and all require energy/power, and I can generate that through the thin battery that we're [developing].
"If the user wants to see that information — and see the most important information that he needs to get an idea of his surroundings/situational awareness — I can pump it through the heads-up display, so that's how all these pieces are connected."
In addition to a user-level power supply, Flexel envisions other larger uses, Proctor said.
"We also see it as a material that could be used, from a homeland-security perspective, in emergency-medical-tent linings. So, when you deployed the tent, the power was integrated and — potentially, with LEDs — the lighting was integrated, which means you have a full operating theater much, much faster.
"We also know that you can make it into a checkerboard of batteries, where you fold them in one direction to add voltage and fold them in another direction to add capacity, so you can kind of make a configurable battery that way."
With the flexible form factor, the thin-battery technology could be used in a variety of ways. For example, it could be integrated into the body armor of a soldier or first responder, into a belt or wristband, or into the skin of a prosthetic, Proctor said. The company already has received a request to integrate the power supply into a mouthpiece, so potentially concussive impacts can be measured, he said.