Wearables

US Army and Marine Corps PowerWalk into wearable battery trials

Bionic Power is teaming up with the US Army and Marine Corps to conduct field trials of PowerWalk
Bionic Power is teaming up with the US Army and Marine Corps to conduct field trials of PowerWalk
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Bionic Power is teaming up with the US Army and Marine Corps to conduct field trials of PowerWalk
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Bionic Power is teaming up with the US Army and Marine Corps to conduct field trials of PowerWalk
Two PowerWalk devices can produce an average of 10 to 12 watts
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Two PowerWalk devices can produce an average of 10 to 12 watts
The PowerWalk kinetic energy harvester wraps around the knee and recharges batteries while soldiers walk
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The PowerWalk kinetic energy harvester wraps around the knee and recharges batteries while soldiers walk
The US Army and US Marine Corps will begin field trials of the PowerWalk in 2017
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The US Army and US Marine Corps will begin field trials of the PowerWalk in 2017
The PowerWalk kinetic energy harvester wraps around the knee and recharges batteries while soldiers walk
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The PowerWalk kinetic energy harvester wraps around the knee and recharges batteries while soldiers walk
Two PowerWalk devices can produce an average of 10 to 12 watts
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Two PowerWalk devices can produce an average of 10 to 12 watts
The PowerWalk device is designed to lessen the need for soldiers to carry bulky batteries
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The PowerWalk device is designed to lessen the need for soldiers to carry bulky batteries

Development of piezoelectric and triboelectric generators that harvest the kinetic energy generated by movement has been gaining momentum over the past few years, and now the US Army and Marine Corps are taking the technology into the field. Vancouver-based Bionic Power will soon supply troops with its PowerWalk Kinetic Energy Harvester, a lightweight device worn around the knee that recharges batteries while soldiers walk.

The PowerWalk features a gearbox that mechanically converts the knee's rotation speed into a higher speed that is more efficient for the onboard power generator to then convert to electrical power. The result is 10 to 12 watts of electricity, which is itself then converted to charge Li-ion or NiMH batteries.

Wearing a PowerWalk on each leg, users can apparently generate enough electricity to charge four smartphones after an hour of walking at a reasonable pace. The PowerWalk is also able to analyze the wearer's gait to determine the most efficient time to generate power, and Bionic Power claims a secondary benefit of reducing muscle fatigue during downhill walking, lowering the risk of knee injury.

The applications for the military are clear. Electricity is vital in the field, with communications, navigation and optics devices all requiring power, which usually involves carrying heavy battery packs.

"A soldier typically carries 16 to 20 lbs (7 to 9 kg) in batteries on a 72-hour mission," says Noel Soto, US Army Systems Engineer. "If a soldier can generate power with wearable energy-harvesting devices, it means we can not only reduce the weight on his or her back, we also minimize the unit's reliance on field resupply, making it possible for us to extend the duration and effectiveness of a mission."

The contract between Bionic Power and the US Army and Marine Corps will see PowerWalk units tested in the field in early to mid-2017. Beyond that, Bionic Power hopes to bring the device to other professional and general consumer markets.

Source: Bionic Power

6 comments
Daishi
I'm not sure if I ever really see something like this catching on. It uses your knee as it's mechanical joint but carrying a lot of equipment can already be hard on your knees, joints, and feet. I don't think I have ever experienced muscle failure walking and for faster pacing I would take a pair of modified jumping stilts over something like this for a lot less cost, weight, and complexity. Look what Oscar Pistorius (Blade Runner) can do without legs. Something similar could even reduce impact injuries and in a race I would put my money on jumping stilts/blades over this. To make it suitable for combat you would have to modify it with some sort of quick release is all. If I were doing this kind of thing I would sponsor a half marathon and award a prize to anyone on foot that could beat a uniform soldier with a ruck and running/jumping stilts.
Paul Anthony
Not sure what the stilts are you're talking about Daishi. I am surprised they've wasted time with NiMH batteries.
ljaques
This looks like a great idea for mobile forces. Anything to reduce the weight of their combat load is a very good thing. Next, we need to get them H2O condensers to grab the water out of the air, keeping them hydrated during their missions.
yawood
@Daishi. I think you misunderstood the reason for this. It is meant to recharge batteries, not act as an external skeleton to aid walking or endurance. It may make life easier for the wearer by reducing the weight of batteries that have to be carried (because the ones that are carried can be kept charged) and the article says that it may help reduce stress in downhill walking, but the main reason is to use the walking action to generate power to recharge batteries.
Timelord
I would prefer a trailer with pivot attachments on the sides of a soldier's hipbelt. That would take the load off the soldier's back and reduce the load on the legs, reducing fatigue, and a generator can be connected to the wheel, which would be relatively large for easy rolling on dirt, maybe 10 inches (25 cm) diameter. If he comes to really rough terrain or needs to run, just flip the trailer up on the pivots until it becomes a backpack.
Arrow
It would be good if they could be bulletproof as well. The legs have always been hard to protect and having some protection would be a double reason to put up with the hassle of having something else to wear/carry.
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