Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a wearable patch that could provide personalized cooling and heating to help save energy on air conditioning and heating.
The soft, stretchy patch cools or warms a user’s skin to a comfortable temperature and keeps it there as the ambient temperature changes. It is powered by a flexible battery pack and can be embedded in clothing.
“This type of device can improve your personal thermal comfort whether you are commuting on a hot day or feeling too cold in your office,” said Renkun Chen, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego who led the study.
The device, which is at the proof-of-concept stage, could also save energy. “If wearing this device can make you feel comfortable within a wider temperature range, you won’t need to turn down the thermostat as much in the summer or crank up the heat as much in the winter,” Chen said.
The patch is made of thermoelectric alloys materials that use electricity to create a temperature difference and vice versa sandwiched between stretchy elastomer sheets. The device physically cools or heats the skin to a temperature that the wearer chooses.
The ultimate goal is to combine multiple patches together to create smart clothing that can be worn for personalized cooling and heating. So engineers designed a soft electronic patch that can stretch, bend and twist without compromising its electronic function.
It’s more energy-efficient to cool down an individual person than a large room, researchers noted. A device like the patch could drastically cut down on cooling bills,” Chen said.
The team is now working on patches that could be built into a prototype cooling and heating vest. They hope to commercialize the technology in a few years.