In the mode in which the brace is only activated while the knee is braking, the subjects required less than one watt of extra metabolic power for each watt of electricity they generated. A typical hand-crank generator, for comparison, takes an average of 6.4 watts of metabolic power to generate one watt of electricity because of inefficiencies of muscles and generators.
"We've demonstrated proof of concept," Kuo said. "The prototype device is bulky and heavy, and it does affect the wearer just to carry. But the energy generation part itself has very little effect on the wearer, whether it is turned on or not. We hope to improve the device so that it is easier to carry, and to retain the energy-harvesting capabilities."
A lighter version would be helpful to hikers or soldiers who don't have easy access to electricity. And the scientists say similar mechanisms could be built into prosthetic knees other implantable devices such as pacemakers or neurotransmitters that today require a battery, and periodic surgery to replace that battery.
"A future energy harvester might be implanted along with such a device and generate its own power from walking," Kuo said.
|Contact: Nicole Casal Moore|
University of Michigan