Waterloo wins big with tiny power device

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A device that harvests ambient emissions from smartphones and converts them into power to run smart contact lenses has earned a team of Waterloo Engineering students a third-place finish and a $4,500 US prize in an international design competition.

Fifty student teams vied for honours at the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium in Puerto Rico after being challenged to design and build power-harvesting devices capable of turning radio-frequency emissions into useful DC power.

Supervised by electrical and computer engineering professor George Shaker, the multidisciplinary Waterloo team included master’s student Luyao Chen and undergraduates Ben Milligan and Shiran Qu.

They met the challenge with a tiny harvesting device to power contact lenses equipped to monitor glucose levels in the tears of wearers with diabetes, an idea now being developed by companies including Google and Microsoft. 

“A smart contact lens is the next step towards taking control of our own health,” the students said in a supporting video. “Team Waterloo has brought us that much closer to making it a reality.”

The students noted that diabetes, which can lead to health problems including heart attacks, strokes and nerve damage without careful glucose monitoring, is expected to affect 380 million people worldwide by 2025.