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Biotech Power The Matrix Hardware

Electrical Power From Humans 220

Coisiche writes "The BBC covers a team of scientists who are working on a new way to power medical implants: an internal biofuel cell. From the article: 'Their gadget, called a biofuel cell, uses glucose and oxygen at concentrations found in the body to generate electricity. They are the first group in the world to demonstrate their device working while implanted in a living animal. If all goes to plan, within a decade or two, biofuel cells may be used to power a range of medical implants, from sensors and drug delivery devices to entire artificial organs. All you'll need to do to power them up is eat a candy bar, or drink a coke. ... In 2010, they tested their fuel cell in a rat for 40 days and reported that it worked flawlessly, producing a steady electrical current throughout, with no noticeable side effects on the rat's behavior or physiology.' Of course, there's never been a sci-fi movie using such technology as a plot device..."
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Electrical Power From Humans

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  • Watch Out (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I'm pretty sure the Matrix is going to read this paper and keep it on file for later, after it's world domination plan is complete.
    • Yeah, it'll just have to make sure we don't commit suicide first by blotting out the sun. Which would make humans utterly worthless as power sources.

      You know, come to think of it I think the machines in that movie might have been right to subjugate the humans, if only for their own damn good. After all, what is the one thing on the planet (besides some deep sea vents) that can survive and operate, and has for hundreds of years, without the Sun? If you said "machines", congratulations! You are smarter than e

      • by EdZ ( 755139 )
        The "Second Renaissance" shorts make it very clear that the humans are a bunch of blithering idiots without even a basic grasp of the laws of thermodynamics.
      • To be fair, the original idea was that the machines were using our brains for processing power which is at least logical. Executive meddling said that was too hard for people to understand so instead we got the brain meltingly stupid explanation in the movie instead.

        • Holy shit. I did not know that, and while muddling over how stupid the explanation they used was, I came to that exactly that as a far more plausible explanation that explains lots of various plot points that don't make much sense in the movie. For instance, why the machines need to keep humans conscious in a matrix at all, why they don't arbitrarily change whatever the hell they want (they change something once in the movie, why the hell can't they do that whenever and instantly?), why the agents are fairl

      • by Tarsir ( 1175373 )
        What machines are you aware of that can operate without humans servicing and powering them for even one year?
        • Spacecraft are rather good at it. Ask Vyger, err, Voyager 1/2.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_1 [wikipedia.org]

          Hows 34 years and counting?

          Don't confuse our lack of wanting to make reliable machines with the lack of ability to make reliable machines. When we need to, we can make some pretty hearty equipment, its just not practical for us to do it for ALL machines. Its also generally not as profitable either.

        • Satellites. Robot probes. Sentient machines.

          Wait, damnit, humans don't know about us... I mean those yet! Shit, guess I shouldn't have mentioned it. I mean, nothing to see here fellow human /.'er, move along.

  • How much power is generated by the system? What is the efficiency? If science writers aren't going to include this kind of information in their articles, they could at least include a reference to the original paper for those of us who are interested.

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      I'd be interested in volumetric and mass power density. I know my body outputs about a watt per pound and generates about a hundred watts per cubic foot. If this is much higher or lower in either measure, its going to have interesting effects on the body. Otherwise the effect on the body will merely be like being that much fatter, mostly.

      Being able to biologically power a LED light would be an interestingly useless hack.

    • How much power is generated by the system?

      Enough to power an artificial urinary sphincter.

      What, too much information?

      Personally, my first question was more along the lines of what the waste products are. TFA mentioned water as one by-product.

      • So how much power do you need to engage or disengage a urinary sphincter? A enough to power a single LED? Less? More?
        As a comparative unit, I don't think "urinary sphincters" is going to get as much traction as flashlights or New York City for X days.

        This is all fine and dandy, but my gut feeling is that some very simple physics and biology related problems are going to limit these things to little more than low output power supplies for simple implants and novelty bodymods.

        Although I can think of a few rea

        • by spazdor ( 902907 )

          I think the more likely near-future goal is to make pacemakers, wireless biosensors, and so on which don't require battery changes.

    • I want to know if it will help me lose weight while powering my iPhone or laptop
    • No, the obvious questions are: 1. Will it power a death ray laser? and 2. Does it work with shark blood?
  • by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Monday October 17, 2011 @02:23PM (#37742156) Journal
    devices which do the opposite: convert power into biologically useful energy. after that, resistance is futile.
    • We have that, right? Adenosine triphosphate was first synthesized in 1948 by Alexander Todd, at least according to Wikipedia. Or if you want to start from a different step in the process, here's a picture of glucose [wikipedia.org].

      The harder part is that the stuff needs to be distributed to every cell, and every cell needs to process it individually. And the process needs to be regulated, etc. It's fairly complex, but I think it's mostly well understood.
  • If I just collected it and ran a generator,...

    World domination! Or a tidy lawn at least.

  • Really cool (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 17, 2011 @02:24PM (#37742170)

    This can also be used to regulate blood sugar levels--a cure for obesity that allows people to still be lazy and eat a lot.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      and power their vehicles at the same time. My Ford Fusion gets 7km/chocolate bar!
      • by Adriax ( 746043 )

        Wait two more years and your Ford Mr Fusion will get 8km/chocolate bar and another 2km from the wrapper.

    • by mevets ( 322601 )

      Not just that, you could implant lasers above their eyes and have heat vision, just like superman!
      Imagine, eyeing that piece of cold pizza, and realizing that by heating it up then eating it, you will actually lose weight! FTW!

    • If only that were true. Without coupling the energy to some kind of useful work, however, letting people eat more than they need is impossible. Human bodies are still subject to physics: you can't just turn up the thermostat and assume the room will stay the same temperature, nor can people simply burn more energy while living the same life style in the same body.

      Just generating an electrical charge with the excess calories, as the implant would do, isn't effective: where does the charge go? It can't keep
      • Actually it appears to be using a completely different oxidation process. Normally the body converts Glucose into pyruvate though a very long process while the biocell uses Glucose oxidase to trigger a reaction that creates D-glucono-Î-lactone instead.

  • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Monday October 17, 2011 @02:26PM (#37742190)

    Next, a USB port in your belly button to charge your iPhone.

    • Re:USB (Score:5, Funny)

      by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday October 17, 2011 @02:28PM (#37742224)

      Why do that?

      Embed your iPhone into your chest cavity- put a speaker in your ear.

      Rename it "I, Phone"

      • Good idea but Apple would never allow it.

        Just think how hard it would be to convince people to buy the new and 'vastly' improved model every 6 months.

        • Considering how eager people are to buy them now I doubt Apple would have any difficulty selling them. In fact if you purchase the Apple iChest (compatible with 10% of the hearts/lungs on the planet) you can simply reach in and pull out the old iPhone when you need to upgrade.
      • Embed your iPhone into your chest cavity- put a speaker in your ear.

        Playing Angry Birds during meetings would be a bit more overt.

        • Embed your iPhone into your chest cavity- put a speaker in your ear.

          Playing Angry Birds during meetings would be a bit more overt.

          That was Angry Buds.

  • Couch Power (Score:4, Funny)

    by malevolentjelly ( 1057140 ) on Monday October 17, 2011 @02:31PM (#37742250) Journal

    I, for one, look forward to quitting my job and simply setting myself on top of an inductive charging couch, watching TV, and eating as much fattening food as possible to sell my bio-power back to the grid. I aspire to one day becoming something like a defecating tree.

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      I have some really bad news for you, the money you make selling the power is not going to pay for the cost of the food. Now it might make for a neat diet and a little spare change, but that is about it.

      • So? People over-eat now, not only are they not paid back for the food, they get incredibly expensive medical conditions. Lots of fake pills advertise the ability to increase your metabolism, but that's what this would actually do. Even if it just dissipated heat into your bloodstream ("wasting" the energy completely), it might be useful. Or harmful, of course.
      • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
        It only makes a neat diet if your body uses the same amount of energy for other tasks. There is this misconception that most people have even in the face of huge amounts of daily evidence. The body does not use energy based on how much goes in. We have anuses. We poop. The body stores fat. The body burns fat.

        If a person is fat, the sound bite suggestion is "Eat Less. Exercise More." This is a pointless suggestion. If all energy that was consumed could just simply be converted to mechanical energ
    • It runs on glucose (sugar) and oxygen... If you could afford to buy such a device, why bother putting it inside you? Just give the device the sugar and oxygen and keep your under-achieving meat bag out of the equation. Trust me, it will cost you less in the long run. Want to know what to do with all that fat? Invest in an at-home liposuction kit and start making "all natural" beauty soaps... I read this great how-to once...

  • by DriedClexler ( 814907 ) on Monday October 17, 2011 @02:36PM (#37742308)

    It seems like the usage of your body's energy is a feature, not just a cost. Would it be possible to have some device use as much energy from your body as possible so as to keep you from getting fat? And for a triple-play, how about if that energy could also be stored or transmitted for consumer use, displacing some of your expenditures on electricity?

    Obviously, by that point the logistics would be a major issue, but it would be awesome if something could tackle the problems of implant powering, obesity, and energy all at once.

    • No. Read my other posts and you'll learn why. You can't control weight by simply changing the amount of energy your biochemistry uses; see this drug as one example of why not. DNP [wikipedia.org]
      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        Um, DNP worked. There are concerns about cataract, and some other possible side effects. I am unaware of any sturdy that should any more side effects then pretty much any other drug.

        amphetamine cause you to lose weight by changing you biochemestry as well. The side effects are really nasty, and it is very easy to abuse.

      • You obviously have expertise in this area, but I don't see how that's a relevant comparison. My suggestion was for the device to siphon off glucose your body would normally pass through its regular metabolic channels (and thus store as fat); DNP had numerous effects in addition to simply consuming energy. A device that coverts it into electricity could just turn the glucose into harmless smaller compounds like water and CO2.

        There may be a problem I'm missing, but your argument seems to be "liposuction doe

        • I just meant to argue that you can't burn more energy without giving it a place to go. With DNP, that energy went into sheer heat production, and thus despite its effectiveness people were uncomfortable or dangerously unhealthy while taking it. You're right that it's not totally analogous to a biomechanical device diverting some glucose.

          I guess my underlying point is that cells are unbelievably delicate and that thermodynamics works just the same at the cellular level as it does in a car. The rate of ene
  • Drink a Coke huh? Not in America. We use High Fructose Corn Syrup for most soft drinks. You want to power that baby, you'll need a Coke from Mexico. They actually use real sugar.

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      Your body makes glucose out of that just fine. You even make glucose from non-carbohydrate sources when the need arises.

    • by daenris ( 892027 )
      You realize that most HFCS is made up of 40% or more glucose right?
      • That is probably not where the problem is.Frankenfood is the problem. Corn is GMed to produce HIGH(er) FRUCTOSE, something it doesn't normally do.

        And I don't care what Coke or anyone else says, Coke from Mexico tastes different (better IMHO).

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Any attempt to spread your vitriol and ignorance, huh?
      Your post show your complete ignorance on the subject; which explains why you have an entrenched desire to overcompensate for it by making irrelevant posts.

      So, what do we know?
      1) You have no idea what HFCS (corn sugar) is.
      2)you have know idea what sugar is
      3) You no nothing about how the body process them.

    • "High" fructose corn syrup is still 45% glucose. Regular sugar is only 50%.

      I don't really understand why HFC is so dangerous metabolically, but in terms of every day chemistry it's almost identical to ordinary sugar, and an electrical device only cares about the chemistry.
  • I'd love an implant which would passively monitor my vitals, blood fat etc. levels and allow uploading through some kind of NFC solution. 10-20 years?

  • Add an outlet to it, and you'll be able to charge your ipod and lose a pound at the same time!
  • With the right chili, you could power New York City for a night.

  • Would it be possible for this to work as way to increase the body's effective metabolism? Thereby allowing some folks with slow metabolisms to boost theirs?

    • No.

      A device like this breaks down glucose, which releases energy. If you couple that energy to building something else in your body, or use it to make electricity as the implant is doing, then that's fine. But breaking glucose to increase your metabolism will just lead to producing so much electricity in the implant that it starts fucking with your nervous system or even stops your heart (which would happen at much lower power levels than you'd think).

      There's one more option for dispersing the excess e
  • Oblig xkcd [xkcd.com].

    In the plus side, cellphone like devices will be even more obiquitous. In the minus side, a tinfoil hat won't be enough anymore, you could get implanted tracking devices for the rest of your life, that not just tell where you are.

  • This is a little scary. At the best of times their pathway will involve creating highly dangerous hydrogen peroxide as a primary product. Other normal biological processes make peroxide, too, but it's still scary shit. When you put hydrogen peroxide on a cut in your hand that bubbling your hear is the sound of the peroxide eating through the contents of every damaged cell in the place.

    There's also the creation of superoxide radicals, singlet oxygen, etc. to consider. Any enzyme that binds oxygen or cataly
    • I suspect they're not at all worried about the issues you bring up, the body handles hydrogen peroxide just fine and the problem they're trying to solve is to how to get -more- energy out of the reaction, not less.

      • I suspect they're not at all worried about the issues you bring up, the body handles hydrogen peroxide just fine and the problem they're trying to solve is to how to get -more- energy out of the reaction, not less.

        You're totally missing my point, and you're misunderstanding their research. They're not trying to get more energy out of the reaction at all, and no one is saying they should be trying to get less.

        All the cell does is substitute itself for a single step in the break down of glucose to divert the energy to the implanted device; it doesn't change the net energy released by the reaction whatsoever. The device is just stealing some energy; it doesn't re-engineer the reactions involved.

  • I am interested in what kind of loss of glucose it is on a per hour basis. It could have big impacts on patients that have insulin dependent diabetes. So for instance if you had an internal insulin pump that was powered by these type of bio fuel cells I have to wonder how it would change the insulin needed. This along with the potential to make a person need to eat more just to keep things powered inside of themselves. Small problems but still things that would be interesting to find out about.
  • If memory serves me right, in Matrix the energy was generated off bioelectricity and body heat. Here, instead, is a biofuel cell powered by sugar and oxygen. That's like comparing a solar power cell to an internal combustion engine. Now what this invention does replicate is a parasitic organism, or, if the cell actually does something useful, a symbiotic organism.

  • Excess sugar in the blood can be damaging, the kidneys end up being damaged from over-work trying to excrete the excess sugar. Hmm, the possibilities.
  • to get my own USB plug.

  • Get one that can do the same using body fat, and you're on.

  • 1971: http://www.springerlink.com/content/v6654g6683t420p7/ [springerlink.com] "Parametric study of the anode of an implantable biological fuel cell" which cites related papers as far back as 1968.
  • As others are mentioning, sugar is bad for you. The insulin blast ages your pancreas, whacks-out your cholesterol ratios, and eats at your blood vessel walls.

    When they invent an engine that converts fat to energy, they'll have something. Oh wait, they already have [z-bestbikes.com].

  • Of course, there's never been a sci-fi movie using such technology as a plot device...

    Au contraire, the alien healing device in Babylon 5 sounds kinda close.

  • If consumption of food and generting power through these biocells is more efficient and cheaper than burning fossil fuels, then clean energy will be here, NOW, and these will become very important in our world. Pollution will then be measured in CO2 from breathing and sulfur, varions carbon molecules, and other products measured in farts per hour.

    If not, then fossil fuels will stay big, but these biocells will largely be relegated to convenience uses.

    God, I hope it's the former. Imagine a giant farm of rats

  • A Glucose BioFuel Cell Implanted in Rats

    Cinquin P, Gondran C, Giroud F, Mazabrard S, Pellissier A, et al. (2010) A Glucose BioFuel Cell Implanted in Rats. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10476. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010476

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0010476 [plosone.org]

    Powering future generations of implanted medical devices will require cumbersome transcutaneous energy transfer or harvesting energy from the human body. No functional solution that harvests power from the body is curre

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