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Harnessing Kinetic Energy from Marching Soldiers

Capturing kinetic energy from marching military men


A two year study led by the University of Leeds in the UK aims to develop a system that can harness kinetic energy from marching soldiers.

The $1.5 million plan will focus on finding a way to convert human energy into usable power for military field applications. It is part of the larger “battery-free soldier” project that also includes development of solar and body heat-harvesting technologies for the military.

Soldiers carry around electronic equipment such as large flashlights, and power sources in the form of batteries can weigh as much as 10 kilograms of a foot soldier’s usual 75 kilogram pack. Clearly, having a power source they can carry around will be beneficial. Research leader Professor Andrew Bell of Leeds says,

“As well as the obvious green issue of using so many batteries, [the system] could also reduce a soldier’s pack weight by around 15 per cent. And this technology could potentially have lots of applications in civvy street too.”

The potential use of kinetic energy as a power source is a hot topic lately, and we’ve seen various examples such as M2E Power’s portable gadget charger and Burger King’s drive-thru speed bump road mats. Closer to this particular subject though, is that knee brace made to harness energy from human movement.

The Leeds scientists plan to create a similar system that includes knee wraps and backpack straps with crystals and high-tech ceramic materials acting as piezoelectric transducers. These piezoelectric components are responsible for converting mechanical energy from movement into electric charge.

According to source, the technology would work pretty much like regenerative braking in cars. Besides harnessing kinetic energy though, the scientists plan to ensure that the devices would be as unobtrusive as possible, even providing support, with the knee braces capable of “cushioning the impact when legs are bent, joints compressed or [the soldiers’] boots strike the ground.”

Professor Bell and his colleagues are well aware of the problems associated with developing a technology that harvests energy from human movements – such as differences in the manner of walking – that have led to the failure of similar efforts. Bell, however, is positive that theirs would be a success: “By using the latest materials and electronics combined with taking into account personal differences in walking style we are confident we can make this work without adding to the burden or fatigue of the soldier wearing the device.”

Image credit: Daniel Y. Go at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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