When you walk you produce energy, on average about 10-12 watts. So why not harness this energy to recharge batteries? This question was taken up a few years ago by a small Canadian company, Bionic Power, and its prototype answer, described by CEO Yad Garcha as a system which “recharges batteries, it is not the battery,” is visible at the Eurosatory land, airland and security show in Paris this week.
PowerWalk is a leg-mounted exoskeleton that weighs 1.2kg on each leg. Garcha says the company’s target is to bring that weight down to 800g. A soldier walking around wearing it can produce enough power to charge up to four smart phones. With every stride the PowerWalk’s on-board microprocessors analyse the wearer’s gait to determine precisely when to generate maximum power with the least amount of effort.
Designed to accommodate a soldier’s full range of motion, the
PowerWalk has no impact on mobility or agility.
It apparently takes about an hour to get used to walking with it the
first time but then the following times there is no adaptation period. “We’re working on bringing this adaptation period down to five minutes,” Garcha told FOB.
At the end of May the 12-person Vancouver-based company won a US$1.25M contract from the US Department of Defense to supply low-volume production units of the PowerWalk for field trials under the Joint Infantry Company Prototype (JIC-P) Program set up to develop and test a system to provide power for dismounted infantry in order to reduce logistics resupply challenges and increase self-sustainability.
“A soldier typically carries 16-20lbs in batteries on a 72-hour mission,” says Noel Soto, U.S. Army Systems Engineer at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. “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.”
Joint testing of Bionic Power’s PowerWalk device under this new contract will begin with the Marine Corps and the Army in early to mid-2017.
These field trials also play an important role in helping Bionic Power prepare for volume production.
“Every military customer has different requirements for the PowerWalk, from technical specifications for batteries and connectors to the way the camouflage looks on the padding,” says Garcha. “Deploying multiple units for real-world testing not only supports ongoing development and refinement of the product, but also enables us to develop our production capacity so we’re ready for larger-scale deployments in the future.”