June 18, 2018
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Walking steps
Self-generated power could reduce soldiers’ load

Soldiers nowadays carry multiple electronic devices that aid in strategy, communication and navigation, including computers, radios, mobile phones, battlefield situational displays and navigation tools-to name just a few. Being without power to run these devices could impact soldier safety, performance and efficiency. Further, heavy loads can increase injuries as well as impact mobility.

To address these challenges the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC is developing a device that can generate power for soldiers just by walking.

Today’s warfighters may one day find themselves knee-deep in power. The bionic power knee harvester, also known as the PowerWalk, is an energy-harvesting device that is attached to both the upper and lower areas of both legs and generates power from movement. The device is still in development. Field trials will begin in 2017.

The device is designed to extract the energy expended when the knee is flexed and negative work is being performed. The system adjusts to a person’s gait, so soldiers don’t feel like they are wearing a device and can even forget that they have it on.

The power generated by the device charges the main battery. The goal is to reduce the amount of batteries used by soldiers, or to be able to extend the mission with the same load.

Soldiers are carrying a heavy load and a lot of that weight, 16 to 20 pounds for a 72-hour mission, is due to batteries. In addition to potentially lightening the load by reducing the number of batteries needed, the energy-harvesting technology could also free up space in backpacks for other supplies, including food and water.

By wearing the device, soldiers can generate power to recharge batteries for themselves or for others. The objective is to have the device weigh one pound and be capable of generating 3.5 watts and to have a device weighing two pounds able to generate 10 watts.

As a generator, it creates power. As a motor, it could enhance movement. It could potentially be used in the future for human augmentation. The device could also serve to reduce the logistical burden. In remote places, it could potentially increase self-sustainability and independence by reducing the need for resupply. The knee energy-harvesting device also reduces muscle fatigue during downhill walking.

NSRDEC is working with Bionic Power of Canada on the joint-service project, which will benefit the Army and the Marine Corps infantry.