This release is available in Spanish.
ANN ARBOR, Mich.---A new energy-capturing knee brace can generate enough electricity from walking to operate a portable GPS locator, a cell phone, a motorized prosthetic joint or an implanted neurotransmitter, research involving the University of Michigan shows.
A report on the device is published in the Feb. 8 issue of the journal Science. Authors include researchers from Simon Fraser University in Canada and the University of Pittsburgh, in addition to U-M.
The wearable mechanism works much like regenerative braking charges a battery in some hybrid vehicles, said Arthur Kuo, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at U-M and an author of the paper.
Regenerative brakes collect the kinetic energy that would otherwise be dissipated as heat when a car slows down. This knee brace harvests the energy lost when a human brakes the knee after swinging the leg forward to take a step.
Kuo, who called the device "a cocktail-napkin idea," says knee joints are uniquely suited for this endeavor.
"There is power to be harvested from various places in the body, and you can use that to generate electricity. The knee is probably the best place," he said. "During walking, you dissipate energy in various places, when your foot hits the ground, for example. You have to make up for this by performing work with your muscles.
"The body is clever," Kuo said. "In a lot of places where it could be dissipating energy, it may actually be storing it and getting it back elastically. Your tendons act like springs. In many places, we're not sure whether the energy is really being dissipated or you're just storing it temporarily. We believe that when you're slowing down the knee at the end of swinging the leg, most of that energy normally is just wasted."
The scientists tested the kn
|Contact: Nicole Casal Moore|
University of Michigan