TECH FRONT Digital Editor Katelyn DaMour on the latest R&D News

University’s edible battery free of toxic components


team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University developed an edible battery that can be used to power ingestible medical devices.

Ingestible medical devices have been a reality for a

while: Roughly 20 years ago, scientists created a cam- era that could be swallowed by a patient undergoing an endoscopy. These devices are battery-powered, but still contain toxic components that would be dangerous to the body if anything should malfunction.

Christopher Bettinger is developing an edible battery made with melanin and dissolvable materials.

While the capacity of the edible battery is low com-

pared with, say, a lithium-ion battery, it’s still high enough to power an ingestible drug-delivery or sensing device. “The beauty is that by definition an ingestible, degrad-

able device is in the body for no longer than 20 hours or so,” Christopher Bettinger, who leads the research group, said. “Even if you have marginal performance, which we do, that’s all you need.” Other applications for the battery could be releasing medicine in response to gut microbiome changes, or sup- plying bursts of a vaccine over several hours, he added. Bettinger and his group are also working on creating

edible batteries from other materials, such as pectin, found naturally in plants, and plan to develop packaging materi- als to safely deliver the battery to the body. The group’s research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in August.

T In a one-time use device, like the camera, using such

a battery is less risky. But in applications that need to be repeated on a single patient, the risk of something going wrong increases considerably. That’s where the Carnegie Mellon team comes in: Its

battery is made with melanin pigments that are naturally found in the skin, hair and eyes. Melanin pigment absorbs ultraviolet light to suppress

free radicals and bind and unbind metallic ions—basically, just like a battery. The research team experimented with designs using melanin pigments at the positive or negative terminals, using different electrode materials, such as manganese oxide and sodium titanium phosphate, and cations, such as copper and iron.


Out-of-this-world robotic glove gets new life on Earth

he RoboGove is the product of a nine-year collabo- ration between General Motors and NASA, initially developed as part of a project that launched a hu-

manoid robot, the Robonaut 2 (R2) into space in 2011. One of the design requirements of the R2 was that it be

able to operate any tools a human could. Designers suc- ceeded in giving the robot unprecedented hand dexterity, and that same technology was applied to the RoboGlove. The glove is a battery-powered wearable that mimics

the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand using sensors, actuators and synthetic tendons. It’s also force- multiplying, giving the wearer extra strength and reducing strain on the human hand while doing repetitive tasks— ideal for workers in an assembly line. Thanks to a recent licensing agreement between GM and Bioservo, a Swedish medical technology company, the RoboGlove will be refined for use in manufacturing, health care and industrial applications. “Combining the best of three worlds—space technology

from NASA, engineering from GM and medtech from Bios- ervo—in a new industrial glove could lead to industrial scale use of the technology,” Bioservo CEO Tomas Ward said.

Fall 2016 Photo courtesy of Bettinger lab

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