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Harnessing Human Energy for Medical Good
Date:2/7/2008

ing at a relatively fast pace wearing the harvester -- which looks like a knee brace and weighs just over three pounds -- can generate 13 watts of electricity in one minute. That means you could get about six minutes of laptop computer time for one minute of fast walking. A low-effort walk would produce about five watts of power, which would give you roughly two and half minutes of laptop time, according to Donelan.

Results of the study are published in the Feb. 8 issue of Science.

The potential uses for such a device are many and varied, he said. Apart from powering laptops and cell phones in remote places, the harvester could be used to power pacemakers or implanted insulin pumps. It could also be used to help move robotic limbs.

The technology's current uses are limited by its expense, though Donelan said as they continue to work on the device, they hope its weight and price will eventually come down.

Dr. Gerard Varlotta, director of sports rehabilitation at the New York University Medical Center's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine/Hospital for Joint Diseases, said he thought the study was very interesting, but he "wasn't convinced that it's practical."

Varlotta said he's also concerned that if the device helps to slow the muscle down, if it's used extensively, it could actually cause the muscle to atrophy, because the muscle isn't being used in the way it's naturally used.

If it's used in people that already have a problem walking, such as someone with multiple sclerosis, "it could weaken the muscle further and accentuate the original problem," said Varlotta.

"It would be interesting to see the effects this device will have with long-term use," he said. "They'll have to exercise caution when taking this from normal muscle to pathological [diseased] muscle."

More information

To learn more about robotic limbs that someday might be able to use this typ
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