15 December 2020 Business Lifestyles News


With a faculty of researchers and professors dedicated to solving practical problems and meeting modern challenges head-on, CUHK has generated a portfolio of top-class technology


When it comes to moving the needle forward in technological innovation, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) continues to lead the way among Asia-Pacific universities. With a faculty of researchers and professors dedicated to solving practical problems and meeting modern challenges head-on, CUHK has generated a portfolio of top-class technology.

Its most recent endeavor? Time itself, so to speak.


A prototype of the energy-harvesting wristband. (Photo courtesy of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.)

Developed by Professor Wei-Hsin Liao, the latest breakthrough to come out of CUHK is a prototype in the form of an energy harvester that leverages human motion to power smartwatches and smart wristbands. It’s designed to serve as a readily available energy solution for existing wearables, and it comes at a not a moment too soon.

As the market for smart wearable devices continues to rocket (with a forecast to reach 415 million shipments in 2021) and devices see increased integration with health monitoring, contactless payment, entertainment and more, consumers are relying more than ever on energy sources to keep their smart devices – and often, themselves – working and efficient through the day. This has resulted in a number of consumer anxieties, from having to constantly recharge their devices to being without a convenient energy supply to do so.

The innovation is a natural extension of Liao’s expertise, having developed various designs to harvest energy from human motion – one previously utilizing a slider-crank mechanism to capture and convert rotary, linear and bending motion of the leg.

In turning his attention to the arm and wrist, Liao’s team devised a highly compact prototype with fewer than 10 components in order to reduce friction by magnetic transmission and significantly improve energy conversion by way of a frequency-up converter and transducer.

What does this all mean? Whereas mechanical gears are typically used in traditional watches, this new, compact design structure circumvents the friction caused by mechanical parts that often result in significant energy loss and risk of device failure.

Think of it as a far more effective pedometer that generates more than 10 times the power of previous works.

It’s not without its additional benefits, either. Harvesting gestures like a person’s limb swing boasts a more sustainable power supply that is embeddable, energy-abundant and environmentally friendly*. That’s better for consumers and lighter on landfills otherwise littered with empty batteries.

So, when can consumers expect to “cut” their traditional charging cords? Not just yet, according to Liao’s team, as next steps include gaining support from industry partners to adopt for commercial smartwatch and smart wristband use.


The team has produced a miniature energy harvester while maintaining sufficient electricity output to power smart watches. (Photo courtesy of The Chinese University of Hong Kong).

Until then, his efforts have not gone unnoticed. Liao – who serves as the chairman of the Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering and director of the Institute of Intelligent Design and Manufacturing – was recently selected to receive the Adaptive Structures and Material Systems Award by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The award recognizes significant contributions to the sciences and technologies associated with adaptive structures and material systems.

“I am truly honored to have received this award from ASME,” Liao said, becoming the first Hong Kong recipient of the award.

“This is a recognition of my research team and I am grateful to my colleagues who have been there to support me over the years. As a scholar, not only do I hope that I can invent new solutions with engineering research, but I can also offer insights and inspirations to the next generation of youngsters, making them a force for technological advancement.”


*M. Cai, J. Wang, and W. H. Liao, “Self-Powered Smart Watch and Wristband Enabled by Embedded Generator,” Applied Energy, 263, 114682, 2020.

15 December 2020