We’ve written about exoskeletons many times in the past, but mostly in the context of assistive devices that can help people walk and move better than they could on their own. However, as our past story about Rice Students who modified a knee brace to harvest energy, the same sort of exoskeleton can generate power instead of consume it. And now such a product is in the commercial prototype stage.
Bionic Power, a company based in Vancouver, BC, has developed PowerWalk, which a leg brace system that generates electricity from the bending motion of the knee. The system typically can generate enough power from one hour of walking to recharge four smartphones. The product is initially intended for military use; if a soldier can generate extra electricity while walking, it reduces the weight of the batteries that he or she must carry. It also means that new batteries don’t have to be replaced in the field, which can simplify resupply logistics and make it possible to extend the length of missions. The device can even save the wearer some energy; when walking downhill, the device automatically increases its resistance (and power generation) which reduces the load on the wearer’s legs.
The company has announced that the PowerWalk device will go into field trials with the U.S. Army and Marine Corps in 2017. In addition to military applications, the company also intends to create versions for business and consumer applications as well. Eventually, this approach could provide power for all the wearable Health Tech devices you might ever need to wear.