Article by Dr. Kathryn Paisner, PhD
Director of Research, Analytics, and Business Development
Wearable electronics have been ballyhooed by many as the next truly revolutionary “smart technology.” Integrated into clothing, accessories, and other personal devices, these networks of sensors linked to tiny portable computers are uniquely positioned to harvest next-generation health and behavioral data from their human hosts.
Unlike smart phones, which may be casually relegated to desks and charging stations while their users sit at home or work, wearable electronics continuously monitor consumers’ activities, heart rates, and emotions, for the entire duration of their use. Doctors and medical researchers believe that this data could vastly improve patient outcomes, and marketing professionals are practically salivating at the wealth of behavioral information that may be used for increasingly individualized advertising campaigns.
Currently limited to an array of relatively clunky—yet increasingly stylish—devices, the future of wearable electronics may ultimately depend on groundbreaking research in battery technology. Apparel-based devices, for example, should optimally stretch and bend with their users, but although printed circuit technology offers some solutions for sensor and computing components, suitable batteries remain a significant challenge.
Many researchers have achieved a high degree of flexibility in their batteries, but stretchable cells are still largely the stuff of the future. It is difficult to maintain sufficient cell density while simultaneously creating a high degree of elasticity in the battery itself. Collaborative research from the University of Ilinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University has yielded encouraging results, and promising developments have also been reported by groups at Stanford and CUNY.
Using its advanced battery research database, the ABC PatentEdge™, IP Checkups also identified a handful of other organizations that appear to have focused research efforts on stretchable batteries. As is common with early stage technologies, universities and other public research institutes feature prominently in the space; however, some private companies—large and small—have also invested resources in this area.
Table 2. Patenting activity by top organizations. The number of patents filed by each group, in each calendar year, is shown in the table below.
In addition to identifying organizations with interest in stretchable batteries, the ABC PatentEdge also offered some insight into the aspects of stretchable battery technology on which these groups primarily focus. Polymer-based separators are the most common area of interest, and over 50% of patents relating to stretchable batteries discuss at least one innovation in separator or electrolyte technology.
Table 3. Technologies of primary interest in stretchable battery patents, as determined from ABC PatentEdge data.
More information regarding top innovators and new developments in stretchable battery technology and other battery-related innovations can be found in the ABC PatentEdge. Monthly and quarterly summaries of this information are also available by subscription at www.abcpatentedge.com