Startup builds smartwatch powered by body heat

If you have a pulse, your skin is warm— and a California-based company wants to harness that natural heat to power a smartwatch you’ll never need to charge in a conventional way.

Called the Matrix PowerWatch, the device will be powered by thermoelectrics, or the conversion of heat into power. In this case, the heat comes from your skin. The idea is to eliminate what Akram Boukai, the cofounder and CEO of Matrix Industries, called a “pain point” in the wearables industry: the fact that if you own an Apple Watch or a Fitbit or something like it, you need to charge it by taking it off.

“As soon as you take it off, there’s a barrier to put it back on,” Boukai, who holds a doctorate in chemistry and is a former professor at the University of Michigan, told His company’s goal became to make a body-heat powered wearable device that can “harvest enough heat from the body to keep it running.”


Thus was born the PowerWatch, which has so far raised over $346,000 on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo. It works because your skin heats up the back of of the watch, but the front and the sides are cooler. That causes electrons to heat up and move to the cooler parts of the watch, which makes a voltage that powers the watch. A bad scenario for this watch might be situations where skin temperature and air temperature are about the same, like if you're in the desert. An ideal situation for the watch is when you're exercising— and thus making lots of body heat— outdoors on a brisk day.the watch, but the front and the sides are cooler

It still has a battery, which is charged by the surplus energy produced by your body beyond what the watch needs simply to run. And when you take the watch off, the battery keeps the device’s memory ticking.

Components that only need a little power were key to the design, Boukai said. “This watch wouldn’t be possible even three years ago,” he said. “Now we have available some incredibly low-power chips and electronics.”


The watch won’t send you notifications from your smartphone, but it will measure your steps taken and calories burned, by measuring your body’s heat loss, naturally; it’s also water-resistant. Perhaps best for someone with big wrists, it will be 12.5 mm thick and 46 mm in diameter.

Boukai said that the watch will be delivered in July, and can be preordered now.

It won’t be the world’s first thermoelectric watch, Boukai noted, but the time is right for this one.

“We just got lucky,” he added, “in the sense that we’re taking advantage a lot of low-power electronics and also our expertise in thermoelectric technology… that’s all come together for this watch.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger