Dr Steve Beeby and his team at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) aim to generate energy through people's movement, eliminating the need to change batteries on devices.
In a project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Southampton team will use rapid printing processes and active printed inks to create an energy harvesting film in textiles. This film can also be printed on carpets, enabling individuals to generate energy as they walk around the home or office.
"This project looks at generating electrical power from the way people move and then applying an energy harvesting film to the clothes they wear or the materials they have around them," says Dr Beeby. "We will generate useful levels of power which will be harvested through the films in the textiles. The two big challenges in smart textiles are supplying power and surviving washing."
The research, which begins in October and runs until 2015, will 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.
Dr Beeby has been awarded a prestigious EPSRC Leadership Fellowship to undertake this research, providing up to five years of funding. These awards are a direct investment in Britain's most talented researchers.
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.
The underlying sensor technology, which will make the energy harvesting process possible, is being developed by Dr Beeby and his team through the Microflex project, a Framework 7 European Union funded project due to finish in November 2012.