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The University of Southampton

Smart Fabric technology - the future of festival charging

Published: 13 June 2013

Vodafone UK has unveiled its Power Shorts and Recharge Sleeping Bag ahead of the Isle of Wight Festival - two innovations that have the capability to harvest body heat and movement to boost the battery life of mobile devices at summer events.

The technology is being developed in partnership with the Electronics and Computer Science experts at the University of Southampton, with the aim of providing a 24-hour source of power for people camping at outdoor music events.

State of the art materials and smart fabrics are being trialled to enable the Power Pocket to function via two different energy-gathering methods – thermal for the sleeping bag and kinetic for the shorts:

  • Kinetic energy is mechanically gathered when ferroelectret materials incorporated into the product are squashed or deformed. These foam-like materials contain voids - the surfaces of which are permanently charged. As the size and shape of the voids changes, a net charge is produced at the surface of the material.
  • Thermal energy harvesting comes from the ‘Seebeck effect’, a process that produces a voltage from the temperature differences across a thermoelectric module. In this case, the modules are printed on the fabric of the sleeping bag.

Current trials show that after a full day’s walking and dancing, the harvesting material in the Power Shorts will have been through enough activity to charge a smartphone for over four hours. In addition, heat generated during an eight-hour snooze in the Recharge Sleeping Bag could add 11 hours onto a smartphone’s battery life.

Professor Steve Beeby

Stephen Beeby, Professor of Electronic Systems at the University of Southampton, has consulted with Vodafone to assess the state-of-the-art development. Professor Beeby, who holds of an EPSRC Leadership Fellowship in the field of energy harvesting, is leading a team of researchers to provide a toolbox of materials and processes suitable for a range of different fabrics that will enable users to develop the energy harvesting fabric best suited to their requirements. Applications for the research include using the energy to power wireless health monitoring systems, as well as consumer products such as MP3 players. Applications also exist in the automotive sector.

"With Vodafone we are exploring two specific technologies to charge the Power Pocket: thermoelectrics and kinetic energy harvesting," he explained. "Both represent cutting edge research around smart fabrics and we are looking to integrate these into consumer products, in this case, a sleeping bag and a pair of denim shorts.”

Vodafone UK’s Director of Communications, Christian Cull said: “Our ambition was to create a practical but exciting solution to the charging-related issues experienced by many at outdoor events. We hope that people harness the power in their pocket to keep them chatting, texting, browsing and photographing throughout their entire festival season!”

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