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Marines to test out tactical energy harvesting, from knee braces to drones

Apr. 26, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Marines aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., will soon test new gadgets and gear aimed at harvesting and repurposing waste energy — including a knee brace that could power battery-operated gear.

The Marine Corps’ annual Expeditionary Forward Operating Base, an exposition-style event that rotates between Marine installations, demonstrates tactical energy-creating or energy-saving technologies in order to rapidly field the best ones. This year’s event, to be held May 12-16, will focus on tactical energy harvesting, featuring gear ranging from wearable solar-powered devices to a solar drone that can detect thermal updrafts to prolong its flight time, officials said.

Fifteen companies are building prototypes for the event, and most of the technology is focused on increasing Marine infantry mobility, said Marine Expeditionary Energy Office director Col. Jim Caley.

Officials are particularly interested in exploring the potential around a piezoelectric knee brace prototype, which may be able to replace batteries in portable devices by harvesting vibrations caused by ordinary knee movement.

“If a Marine is able to generate enough power from a piezoelectric knee brace to charge his radio/cell phone/GPS, he doesn’t have to carry as many batteries and can stay out longer without resupply,” said Katie Hanson, an analyst with the office.

The event will also feature technology being tested by the Army and projects from the Naval Postgraduate School, Caley said. While prototypes featured at an ExFOB are not guaranteed to make it to the field, the Corps has purchased and rapidly deployed technology tested at ExFOBs in the past.■

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