Power conversion for wearable devices

Project Code: 10466570

Faculty: Auckland Bioengineering Institute

Department: Auckland Bioengineering Institute

Main Supervisor: Associate Professor Iain Anderson

Co supervisors: Dr Udaya Madawala, Dr Samuel Rosset (sros143)

Application open date: 17 Aug 2020

Application deadline: 31 May 2021

Enrolment information: NZ Citizens, NZ Permanent Residents, International


A rubber-like device, the size of a shoe heel can harvest enough energy to keep your phone charged. We have demonstrated this in our Biomimetics Laboratory at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute where we work with dielectric elastomer (artificial muscle) technology. But we have a problem: the harvesting step of the cycle occurs at high voltage (~ 1 kV). We can boost voltage using our own patented electronics but we can’t easily bring this voltage down to a level useful for portable devices. We have also developed electroadhesive pads that enable robots to walk up walls,  elastomer artificial muscles that move with electrical charge, and flexible piezoresistive switches that turn charge on and off with stretch.  All require conversion of low voltages (~ 10 V) to high voltages (~ 1 kV) and back. But with each we face a voltage conversion challenge.

We can use off-the-shelf electronics componentry to interface and control the charge to our elastomer devices, but this is expensive, heavy, clumsy and not easily wearable. This project is focused on the  electronics that interface the soft polymer systems to make them wearable, economic and portable too. Solving this problem will enable elastomer wearables that harvest energy from human motion, supply IoT Edge nodes without batteries and usher in a new era of soft, lifelike, robotic and assistive devices.

What we are looking for in a successful applicant

Must be eligible for entry to the University of Auckland doctoral programme.

The successful candidate that attacks these and other questions will ideally have a background in Power Electronics Engineering or equivalent with a strong academic record, analytical and hands-on skills and a willingness to explore the world of high voltage. They will be a key member of a team that is out to change the world.



The primary objective is to develop electronics for voltage conversion of elastomer electrostatic devices that has the potential for downscaling in size and that will be safe and portable and wearable.

Other information

This programme is supported by PowerON, a spin-out company of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute’s Biomimetics Lab (www.biomimeticslab.com) and backed by international venture capital funds. The student will receive both a fees and cost of living stipend.