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U.S. Army and Marines trial knee brace that charges batteries

Thu 6 Oct 2016

The U.S. military is testing a device that moves the concept of ‘elbow grease’ a little lower down the body and utilises the active lifestyle of the average U.S. soldier or Marine to help keep batteries charged on communications devices.

The knee brace power harvester, developed by Canadian tech manufacturer Bionic Power Inc., is currently capable of reaping 10 watts out of the 20 watts a soldier is likely to generate marching downhill with a full pack, and can gather more at higher run speeds.

Bionic Power CEO Yad Garcha, speaking at the AUSA 2016 in Washington on Wednesday, said that the knee brace has already had extensive testing at the U.S. Army Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center at Natick, Massachusetts, and will be further trialled with the Marines next year from infantry upwards. In the meantime, the Army is impressed enough with the system to outfit a squad with harvesters next summer.

The PowerWalk exoskeleton component of the brace employs the same energy recovery principle as regenerative brakes in hybrid vehicles.

“Basically they’ll say, here’s a 72-hour mission,” Garcha said. “Here’s a technology that you can wear, let’s see if you can be independent for that period of time. They will probably allow the same mission to be done with batteries, allowing them to compare the effectiveness of the mission, the weight on the soldier’s back, the cost of the battery, so they’ll have comparative testing.”

Noel Soto, a systems engineer at the U.S. Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center observes: “A soldier typically carries 16-20lbs in batteries on a 72-hour mission… 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.”

Though the cost of an individual unit was not disclosed, the innovation follows on from a $1.25 million deal that Bionic Power struck with the Office of the Secretary of Defense in May under the aegis of the Joint Infantry Company Prototype (JIC-P) Program.

The knee brace unit is reported to be lightweight and easy to wear, and currently weighs 2.5lb per leg, with the objective of reducing the weight to 900gm per unit. Garcha reports that troops have responded positively to the kit: “They themselves are saying within 3-5 minutes they forget that it’s on.”


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